How much is too much?

It is almost impossible to separate a language from the culture that created it. This means that sometimes, in order to use a language effectively, you have to also learn something about the culture.

For adult learners, transferring what we already know about grammar and syntax from our native tongue to our new, target language is one of the ways that we can improve much faster than a younger learner. It is also a way to create mistakes, misunderstandings and bad assumptions that can block further learning later. This is especially true with culture, so be very wary of using what you already know too much… it might not work in your new language!

Whether you are learning English, French or Chinese, it is a tendency to use too many words. In language training we imaginatively refer to this as wordiness. It is something that is easy to do when you lack a wide, well-understood vocabulary. We tend to add more words into sentences in order to clarify your meaning. But for a fluent person all this does is introduce more options for meaning, thereby confusing them more.

Look out in particular for redundancy. What this means is using more than one word that means the same thing. If you mean hot, don’t say really warm as well. Trust that you have chosen the right word the first time.

Instead of using more words, try to focus on being more accurate. This may mean that you need to look up a word in a dictionary or a thesaurus, but this is a great way to build your vocabulary and make sure you are easier to understand. Look for the one word that means exactly what you want to say, rather than 3 that mean more or less what you want to say.

Related to wordiness is overly long sentences. When you are learning a new language try and stick o this piece of writing advice: 1 thought for 1 sentence. 1 idea for one paragraph. It’s true that you can link a few thoughts together in a sentence with punctuation and conjunctions. But when you are still learning, each link is an opportunity for a mistake and even the slightest error will confuse your reader.

Depending on what language you are learning, one of the key challenges is how to be polite. People who are just starting often find it hard to be polite when speaking their new language. Make sure you focus on finding out the forms and ways in which native speakers are polite and copy them. But also make sure you understand why these forms exist and how they work… Some language have a respectful polite form of personal pronouns, others use formal language, still others construct sentences differently. Be alert for these changes.

However, always be aware that sometimes, in being too polite you can become vague and hard to understand. Refer back to the above points about sentence length and accurate word usage. It’s no good being really polite if no-one can understand what you mean.

TalenInstituut Free Tip
Long sentences and extra words may make you feel like you are using a language well. Focus instead on the PURPOSE of your communication and ask yourself: is it appropriate to try and use such complex and fancy language? If you are communicating in business, 9 times out 10, clarity and brevity will be valued far more than a wonderful command of the language you are using.

Here at TalenInstituut Nederland (The Dutch Language Institute) we understand the needs that companies face as well as the fears individual learners feel. This is why we offer flexible, fully customised Business language courses to businesses and individuals. Through a process of interviews and meetings we establish the unique needs and competence of our clients and design each and every course around those.

To find out more about our Business Language courses, visit our website and ask us for a quote:

© Taleninstituut Nederland

By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English