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About a year ago, when I went to pursue my English Language Teaching course at Cambridge, I found myself in the midst of many English language teachers, all from different origins and cultures. It was a bit of a challenge for us to get adjusted to each other.
The problem did not just lie in the fact that the native languages we spoke were different; the countries and cultures we hailed from were different as well. We soon became friends because of a common platform though -- English.
If you are working in a BPO and have to deal with clients in the UK, knowing something about their culture will help break the ice faster.
The salad bowl
UK is an island nation that could be truly termed a 'salad bowl'. It is a mix of cultures, people, languages, religions, food habits and traditions. Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Welsh, Irish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians and many other cultures call it home. In the last century, Britain witnessed the fall of its empire and, subsequently, a lack of ability to alter itself with changing times.
Referring to the people and countries
The UK is an abbreviation of 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland form The United Kingdom. However, when you say 'Britain', you refer to only the first three.
When we refer to people from the UK we often use words such as 'English' or 'from England'.
This can be very offensive to those who live in Scotland and Wales. Don't refer to anyone from the island as 'English' unless you are sure that he or she is from England. The term 'British', however, could be used for people from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is a common illusion that everybody in the UK sounds 'Shakespearean' or as if they have walked out of the cast of Pride And Prejudice. English in the UK has a lot of regional accents and dialects. While speaking to the English, remember to articulate well and sound clear so the person listening to you is able to understand you.
RP, which stands for 'received pronunciation', is considered the standard form of spoken English. This form of English is also called 'Queen's English'. However, out of a total population of more than 60 million, only about 2-3 million speak RP.
People from different parts of the country use different patterns of words and phrases. Accents also vary. There can be situations where two Britons from different parts of the country have a problem understanding each other's speech. Speakers of English from different parts of the country can have their own set of colloquial words and phrases, which they use regularly.
While listening to someone with heavy regional accent, focus on the following:
It is important to focus on the background and overall context.
The main idea
You may miss out on some slang and phrases. However, listening to the main idea will help you put 'two and two' together.
~ Words and expressions: Focus on the pronunciation of words and the expressions that support them.
~ When you ask, 'How do you do?' it could mean different things to people from England and Ireland. In England, it is a courtesy question, asking about the person's general well being. For an Irishman, it is a general salutation.
Who hasn't heard of the famed British sense of humour? It varies according to situations and can be slapstick, dry, hard hitting, black or extremely sarcastic.
It is often pun-intended and, while people talk, they generally have understatement flowing throughout their conversation. Wit is very pronounced in British conversation and it might be initially be difficult for a non-Briton to understand the intended meaning.
In situations like these, it is better not to voice your opinion. Don't express how you feel; just be there with what you heard. When you start to get a hang of it, you can pitch in as well.
Starting a conversation
If you are in a lift in any of the MNC offices in India, you will seldom notice others greeting you. This is quite different from what you get to see in the UK. People are warm and friendly and you almost talk to everyone, even crack jokes. This is not abnormal at all because everyone else is doing the same as well.
With work colleagues you don't know personally, 'Hi' or 'Hello' is least exchanged. Common topics most people prefer to start a conversation with include the weather, sports and politics. You often get to hear 'How is the weather like there?', or 'Are you up for the game tonight?', when you call up people located at different geographical regions within the UK. If you are in person with someone, you might ask, 'How's the day mate?' or 'You alright?' (Asking for well being) or 'everything alright, matey?' (Scottish).
Answering the phone
While answering a call, remember to use the following.
-- Prajjwal Rai is a Lead Training Consultant with WCH Training Solutions. He is a Cambridge CELTA certified trainer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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