Saturday, April 21

Ooppps! English Fail

Today I’m going to tell an old, true story. It’s about a blunder* made in English.  

*blunder = big mistake

Before anything else, the point of this story is not to put down any person because of an honest mistake. Nor is it to say bad things about any nationality that doesn't have English as their first language.

There are many stories like this. I decided to choose this one coz it’s the perfect example of how important it is to develop our communication skills in today’s world, and how wide the effect that bad communication skills may have.

The best way is to take the lesson in this story positively. Because it is only through our mistakes that we can truly learn. After we have learned to accept and laugh at our own mistakes, only then can we finally improve.

This story happened 12 years ago. Our main character is the Prime Minister of a non-English-speaking country.

This politician was scheduled to attend an economic summit with the other leaders of the world. Since this politician isn’t so good at English, he was advised to memorize this formula:

A: How are you?

B: I’m fine. Thank you. And you?

A: Me too.

This would be enough and he could let his official translator take care of the rest of the conversation.

And so, the politician tried to keep the formula in mind…

When he finally met American President Bill Clinton, the politician made a small slip-up. Instead of asking “How are you?” he asked: “Who are you?”

So President Bill Clinton answered (perhaps in good humor): “I’m Hillary’s husband.”

And the politician quickly answered: “Me too.”

You can imagine the long silence that followed.


It is never a good thing to memorize fixed sets of dialogues, which is a common practice among learners of English.

This is because nobody can accurately predict what’s going to happen in the actual situation. There are too many factors involved that will cause your ideal dialogue not to play out the way you want it to. First, you can’t control how another person would respond to you. Second, perhaps it’d be too noisy in the place where you will be speaking. Or nervousness and lack of confidence will get in your way.

In fact, the more a person depends on memorized, fixed sets of dialogues, the less he has confidence and the more easily he gets nervous in the real setting. (Think about pick-up scenes at a bar.)

Another reason why it’s not a good idea to memorize dialogue formulas is the fact that, yes, you may be able to remember the information exactly as you want it to, but the sound, intonation and delivery is going to be flat, lifeless, and mechanical. Like a robot's.  

In short, it’ll be obvious to the listener that your speech was memorized and not spoken from the heart.

The best thing to do is to pay close attention to what the other person is saying and to process in your mind what exactly he is trying to express, and then, only then, should you respond. But those who practice memorized dialogues skip and ignore the first part of the process. They jump to the point of responding like a reflex, without caring about what the other person has said.

There are many other stories of blunders in English. They are all humorous at best, shameful at worst. If you have any such stories you wanna share, please feel free to do so.

Like I said, it’s through our mistakes that we learn.


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