Misunderstandings – Can’t reach an agreement, no? Can reach and agreement, no?

Why Spaniards sometimes seem negative and unreliable – a business problem, a language solution.

A number of my Spanish business students make use of telephone conferencing when talking to contacts in other countries. Some use Skype and others use something a bit more expensive, but seldom is video conferencing used and frequently the main language is English.

Typical contact patterns are Spain – Poland [English], Spain – India [English], Spain – Thailand [English], Spain – UK – USA [English].

There are two major problems encountered in these exchanges that I have never found mentioned in the limited number of text books I have read. The first is caused by textbooks and teachers trying to teach ‘authentic’ English in particular contracted forms.

Can and can not or can´t – there is a Spanish tendency to not pronounce the final letter in consonant clusters very audibly. So can´t sounds like can to an English ear [a Spaniard will often hear another Spaniard saying can’t, so colleagues in the same room in a telephone conference know what the speaker is saying but the English listener at the other end of the telephone conference only hears can. This tendency to hear can is compounded by the listener wanting to hear a positive answer.

UK We need delivery by next Wednesday
Spain – we can* do that
UK Good so we are agreed!
Spain – I said we can*
This ping-pong can carry on for a while, much to all parties frustration until:
UK OK, bye

Wednesday – no delivery

UK But those ****** Spaniards told us they could deliver – ******** siesta merchants.

While in Spain their is bafflement at how stupid their international contact are, but self congratulation that the Spanish were so polite – not being too direct and using the dreaded no word.
A second problem could be termed L1 interference.
Spanish makes use of the tag question form: Statement, rising intonation and the tag No.
When seeking agreement I have found this format particularly common and it is carried over into English.

You want a beer, no? (context, being in a bar and thirsty helps with this one)

Wednesday, no? (Is that a statement Wednesday is out of the question? – or – An offer to deliver on Wednesday?)

If Spanish speakers of English are trying to find solutions to problems, even when the English participants recognise the tag question format, the resulting repetition of no can be incredibly wearing and negative to an English listen.
There are solutions to both of these problems.


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