Put Up or Shut Up?

Many of the ways we communicate are entirely instinctive–we do it because we always have. But what is instinctive is also sometimes thoughtless and when we communicate across language boundaries we need a lot more empathy and a much better sense of judgment.

Here’s a quick and simple example of how something we do instinctively might actually be inhibiting our ability to communicate. All native speakers of English fill their everyday conversation with short, simple compound structures called phrasal verbs (such as ‘pick up’, ‘get over’, ‘get back to someone’ etc.). These verb phrases are unique to English, and so learners have no option but to either acquire the many thousands of variations on these phrases or skip a huge chunk of native speech.

Most of us rely on these words because we think they are ‘simple’ and don’t want our language to sound too ‘cold’ or formal, yet if we deliberately chose the formal word (for example ‘tolerate’ instead of ‘put up with’) then we would be building a linguistic bridge to anyone who shared a common Latin base to their language (French, German, Spanish, Italian etc.). It’s a small step, but an effective one and it goes to show how minor changes in your language awareness can have a tremendous impact on your clarity.