Communication in a Foreign Language

In the article Seven Ways to Talk to a White Man, the author uses his experience as a Chinese speaking white man in Taiwan to discuss the challenges that exist in an interaction between a foreigner and a native speaker of a language. People from Taiwan expect to need to be able to speak English in order to interact with foreigners. The author describes a situation he encountered in which salesgirls, who were not confident in their ability to speak English, hid behind coworkers who could better communicate with English speakers. Many Taiwanese people also used the technique that the author named “The Compliment”. This technique occurs when a foreigner tries to speak in Chinese to a on their ability to speak Chinese in an effort to change the conversation back to English.

I find this to be incredibly interesting, especially in comparison to American interaction with foreigners. In this example of the white man in Taiwan, the Chinese speakers not only expected to need to speak English with him, but also often changed a conversation from Chinese to English in order for it to go faster and to be easier for the man. I find this whole idea to be entirely different from what often occurs in America. America has no official language, but English is often required to be able to do things. In talking with a foreigner an American would most likely rely on the foreigner’s ability to speak English. Many other countries require children to begin learning English (or another foreign language) at a very young age, when it is much easier to learn. Most students in America do not begin to learn a foreign language until middle school or high school. The example from Taiwan shows a society where it is expected to interact with a foreigner in their own language, while in American culture it is often required or foreigners to speak English in order to function.