6 reasons why you don’t need perfect English

When a non-native speaker of English works in an English-speaking environment there are obvious disadvantages:

  • you, as the non-native speaker, may not understanding everything;
  • you may feel that you’re the odd one out;
  • you may even be excluded from or not be able to participate in certain cultural or social events.

In this post, however, we’re going to be positive and take a light-hearted look at the advantages of having less-than-perfect English when all around you there are native speakers.

Here are the pros:

1. As a foreigner you may be shown more respect simply because you are able to work in a foreign language. (Let’s face it, how many British or Americans can manage more than a few phrases in a foreign tongue, let alone are able to survive and work in that language?)

2. As a non-native speaker you can change your mind later or alter your position on something simply by apologising and saying that you didn’t fully understand.

3. Your colleagues will have more patience with you (hopefully).

4.  You can ask someone to repeat something more often. (You’ll never look stupid and will have more time to think about what is being said and how you can react to it.)

5. You’re gaining valuable knowledge and experience of a foreign working environment, which will always keep you in good stead. Another feather in your cap!

And one more advantage (which just has to be said):

6. When you revert to your own language, say, to make a private call, no one around you will have a clue what you are speaking about. This is particularly handy in open-space offices.

Perhaps you have experience of one of the above points. Maybe you would like to add another advantage to the list. Either way, feel free to leave a comment below.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

5 Comments

  1. Jon Sumner - December 15, 2011, 1:25 pm Reply

    Hi Stuart, nice list. I agree with all of them. I have another one to add, and that’s that sometimes it is nice to NOT understand what people are saying. I was a high school teacher in Korea for three years, and the school had a lot of students who weren’t really interested in learning English. When I was first there I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying, which was blissful ignorance. As time went by, I learnt a lot of Korean and understood a lot of what people were saying. Sometimes this was a lot of fun, but sometimes it was irritating to know when people were being rude about me, calling me an American (as a Brit I don’t like that!), students were swearing, etc. etc. Also I knew the different politeness levels of the Korean language and how important these were, and I found myself getting annoyed when students didn’t speak to me politely. So there were times when I wish I was still a “fresh off the boat” Westerner who had no idea what people were talking about!

    • Stuart Cook - December 19, 2011, 9:37 am Reply

      Nice little story and a good point, Jon. Thanks. You learning the lingo was probably a mixed blessing for some of those kids (on one hand they could be lazy and speak to you in their own language, on the other hand they no longer had anything to hide behind, as it were).

  2. mateusz - December 5, 2014, 5:30 am Reply

    That post applies to a foreigner working among educated British. I’m a foreigner working in a warehouse in Redditch and even though I’m fluent in English I’m still being left out of conversation quite a lot. People speaking Birmingham accent are often just unable of speaking proper English

    • Stuart Cook - December 7, 2014, 11:01 pm Reply

      Mateusz,

      It’s difficult for me to say whether your colleagues are incapable of speaking ‘proper’ English. It could be that they’ve never had to modify their way of speaking to accommodate non-native speakers. It may also be that they’re unwilling – or even too shy in front of their colleagues – to slow down and speak more clearly for your benefit. Try speaking to people one-to-one, ask them to repeat things, and then you’ll see if they’re able to / willing to speak more clearly.

  3. Eliot - September 21, 2016, 12:31 pm Reply

    I wondered about the sentence : “you (…) may not understanding everything.” Wouldn’t the proper expression use ‘understand’ instead of ‘understanding’? Anyway, thanks for the post!

    (I’m French, still learning English.)

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