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Preventing miscommunication: lessons from cross-cultural couples

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We might expect that people will have trouble understanding one another when they are using a foreign language, but several studies have found that overt misunderstandings are relatively uncommon in such situations. The reason for this is that when people can anticipate that some problems of understanding may occur, they adapt the way they speak. They monitor the level of understanding by, for example, checking that the listener has understood, clarifying words and concepts that may be difficult for the listener to grasp, and creating meaning in collaboration with the listener. Listeners, in turn, indicate promptly if they have not understood what the speaker has said and offer tentative interpretations of what they think the speaker might mean. But what happens when these people fall in love with each other and start a life together? Contrary to common expectations, many partners who have met each other using mainly non-native English as their common language of communication, their lingua franca, continue with English even after years of living under the same roof. They may mix in other languages (which is in fact a very common practice in multilingual environments), but the main language of communication is often very hard to change once one has become comfortable using a certain language with one’s partner. People in a monolingual relationship may struggle to understand how someone can have a meaningful love relationship using a foreign language. Lingua franca couples report that even strangers will often wonder why they use a language that is not native to either of them – why doesn’t one of them just use the other’s language? And how can the partners really understand each other? A recent large-scale study revealed that problems related to the difficulty of expressing emotions in cross-cultural love relationships will subside in a matter of months. What, then, are the strategies that these couples develop in the course of time, that help them understand each. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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