Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Texting Your Smile – From East to West

Emoticons are becoming essential to communicating the feelings and tone behind the words in text messages.  But did you know that emoticons with the same meaning differ across cultures?

Texting in a multicultural world 

The emoticon :) that we in the West use for smile,  is often written as ^.^ in the East.  What if you’re texting that you’re sad?  Westerners use :( while many people in Asian cultures signal that feeling with -_- .  And if you’re so sad that you’re crying as you text, you might write :’(   ,  while your Asian friend may signal the same emotion with ; _ ;

It’s interesting that American and other Westerners replicate emotions with side-way symbols that suggest the mouth, while some Asians use horizontal representations that suggest the eyes. How might this differing symbol usage reflect on cultural communication?

Cultures differ in how they take in information  

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his groundbreaking book, Beyond Culture, distinguishes between high and low-context cultures. Westerners (America/Northern Europe) prefer low-context communication wherein the information exchanged is explicitly embedded in the code (the spoken or written word.  Thus, “Read my lips” or “take a person at his/her word.”

Most other cultures around the world, however, use high-context communication wherein the meaning of the message comes from the context in which it is given. Thus, a person’s reputation, social position, gestures and face convey more meaning than does the simple code of the spoken or written word. “The eyes are the windows to the soul” is one Arab proverb. And ancient languages such as Chinese have tonal and pictorial roots that signal meaning. 

An understanding of high and low context cultures is basic to effective cross-cultural communication. When we recognize that the other person’s way of integrating and evaluating information may be differ from ours, we’re likely to avoid a surprising miscommunication  :0  or o_0 when texting in our multicultural world.  

Jolinda Osborne

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Penny for your Thoughts

Yesterday I spied a shiny penny in a grocery store parking lot. I picked it up, a normal reaction for me, but apparently fewer and fewer people stop and bend over to retrieve the lowly penny. It just isn’t worth the effort.
In fact, a controversy is brewing: should the U.S. stop minting the one cent coin, commonly called a penny?  It costs the government more than one cent in materials and energy to produce a penny. Canada has decided to stop production, and many in the U.S. are calling on us to follow Canada’s lead.  

America is rich with penny-related idioms and cultural references

Pennies may not make economic sense, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the penny. The coin with Abraham Lincoln on one side is intricately woven into the English language and American cultural fabric.

A penny saved is a penny earned,” advised one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. He touts thrift as an important value, and it certainly contributed to the popularity of piggy banks – porcelain or plastic pigs with slots for children to deposit pennies.  Franklin would have approved of the British saying: “penny wise, pound foolish,” wherein a decision to save a small amount upfront (such as refusing to change the oil in one’s car) leads to a very expensive problem later on.

A penny doesn’t get you any respect

If a business endeavor is “penny ante,” you know it’s hardly worth the effort. Moreover,, if it costs you only a penny join (ante) a poker game, your winnings will likely be very small. Speaking of gambling, it’s hard now to find “penny slots,” machines in Las Vegas requiring only pennies to play.  In the 1930s a penny arcade meant a venue where coin-operated devices could be played. Today the webcomic, PennyArcade, has kept the word penny in the collective culture!

Ever overhear a guy called a “bad penny?” He is probably out to borrow money or headed down the road to ruin. Perhaps we should have empathy, though, since he may have been “cut off without a penny” by his family. Without funds he can only eye from the store window expensive items costing a pretty penny.”

Pennies from Heaven

If the penny disappears from pockets and the American experience, I wonder if our grandchildren will relate to the song, Pennies from Heaven, recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holladay, and many other jazz greats.

“Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven
Don't cha know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?
You'll find your fortune fallin' all over town
Be sure that your umbrella
Is upside down

Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers
If you want the things you love, you must have showers.
So when you hear it thunder
 Don't run under a tree
There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me.”

So, the possible demise of the lowly penny has implications beyond government cost-savings. When there are no more pennies, I believe our language will be poorer for it.

A penny for your thoughts.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

After a break to complete my new speech and pronunciation online video course, I’m resuming my blog with a guest blog I wrote for OpenSesame, an online marketplace for eLearning products. I’ll say more about the video product below. 

Clear, confident speech –
across a conference table or across an ocean

International and ESL employees who work in American and global organizations contribute valuable talents and diverse perspectives. When management makes American English pronunciation training available, these employees gain skills to succeed, contribute to their teams, and strengthen the organization.

American English is the lingua franca of business and a fundamental competency skill. Fortunately, clear spoken English is a skill that can be learned, not unlike other interpersonal skills such as teamwork, presentations, and time management.

Clear, confident American English is achievable

I know many employees who have significantly improved their performance once their speech is clear, correct and confident:
managers who run effective meetings and handle team conflicts;  engineers who speak up on conference calls to offer good ideas and challenge the status quo;  physicians who engage their patients and probe for subtle understanding; research scientists who present their inventions at international conferences
These and many other professionals now possess a level of spoken communication that is commensurate with their expertise and achievements. 

Employees are eager for communication training  

Occasionally managers tell me they hesitate to suggest speech/accent improvement for fear of embarrassing an employee. Just the opposite is true. Employees realize that poor speech and pronunciation put them at a disadvantage. They notice the “glazed eyes” of confused listeners, and feel their confidence drain away when others ask them to repeat themselves.

These employees are eager to improve, but some come from cultures where asking a manager for training seems impolite or disrespectful. Moreover, finding professional-level training is challenging, while juggling a pressured work schedule to attend an offsite class is nearly impossible. 

Without confidence in their ability to communicate, employees might defer to others when asked to present their ideas, avoid taking on a leadership role, remain quiet in meetings, and lose out on opportunities to serve the organization and advance their own careers.  

A resource for ESL and international employees

OpenSesame now hosts Sound American: American English for Success in Business, a comprehensive, business-oriented speech and pronunciation video course designed for corporate learning systems and optimized for tablet/mobile devices. 

Pro-active employees who are eager refine their American English can opt to study anytime, anywhere. Employees who are given the performance review directive, “improve your communication,” can now source a rigorous, comprehensive, and effective solution.

Please visit my website to read about the video features, , or go to preview and purchase the course.
I welcome your feedback.