Non-native English

This week I was interpreting for two days during the works council meeting of a large international company. On the first day, the works council met alone, discussing internal things and various issues they wanted to talk about with the management on the next day. There were only two English speaking members, none of them a native speaker, but they didn’t say much, so we mostly had to interpret into English.
On the second day, several members of management joined the meeting, none of them a native speaker, either. The “boss” was not German and didn’t know it, so he had to speak English, which was ok, since his English was good (except for some pretty funny choices of words, like “dungeon” when he meant “basement”) and his accent understandable – even if he spoke rather fast.
One of the Germans giving one of the presentations luckily decided to actually speak his mother tongue, for which we were very thankful – he spoke a very heavy Franconian dialect and whenever he had to use an English word… well, let’s just say that it was interesting.
The other Germans insisted on speaking English (even though the majority of those present didn’t), more or less well, but also incredibly fast.
The worst one to interpret was the Italian, however. Even though we had two Italian interpreters there, and he knew it, had even spoken with them, he also insisted on speaking English. Besides the fact that he also spoke with lightning speed, his accent was so terrible and his syntax so confusing at times that there was a good deal of guessing involved, I have to admit. Our poor colleagues who relied on our German rendering of what was said to interpret into French and Italian(?!) respectively…! It was quite frustrating for everyone in the booths!

I just don’t understand why people think that they need to speak in a language that is not their own, especially when there are interpreters there and there is really no need for it.
So what if the official language of the company is English? If there are no native speakers there, what good will trying to communicate in a foreign language do?
So what if the presentations are in English – the few terms that haven’t been standardized in English are not that hard to translate.

It just think it is so silly and unproductive for people to try to say what they mean in another language they really don’t know as well as they think. No matter how well you know a foreign language (unless you are bilingual), you can always express your thoughts better, more clearly and more accurately in your own native language!
The most spoken language of the world is bad English, and I don’t even want to think about all the misunderstandings that have come from it and people who think they know English.
Unless they have really studied it, whether in their area of expertise or as a language, I dare say that their communication is second rate at best and too much is getting “lost in translation” on the way from a non-native brain to another, whether native or not. I only have to listen to Germans speaking English, thinking they are doing it so well (and don’t get me wrong, many do indeed do it very well), but they inevitably say something that I only understand because I know the German behind it, but what about someone from another country? Or they use English words that are just plain wrong, because it really is “Denglish” (best example: “Handy” for mobile phone).

Ah well, enough of this ranting. Things will most likely never change in this regard, so I’ll just continue doing my best “interpreting” non-native English… 🙂

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