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I'm working as a developer back in my home country, where English is not a first/second language. However, I consider myself a native speaker since most of my schooling has been in an American environment. Everyday I have to talk to my colleagues about technical stuff and English words obviously come up all the time. My colleagues pronounce English words very differently than how it's supposed to be (well most of the times) and I feel weird trying to correct them or speaking the 'right way' because it makes it seem like I'm a dick and often takes the focus away from the real subject.

How do you guys deal with this kind of 'problem?'

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closed as off topic by gnat, Jim G., ChrisF Aug 21 '12 at 16:42

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I would love to see this question cross-posted at English Language and Usage. –  RegDwight Oct 15 '10 at 11:07
Usually I say it the way most of them say it here. The weirdness arises when common words such as 'admin, absolute, id, template, trunk, settings, etc' are pronounced the way it is in my country and I'm the odd one saying it the American way. If I say it their way, it's sounds very obvious that I'm forcing it. –  chiurox Oct 15 '10 at 18:52
Oh, nothing like a southern drawl... –  user1249 Aug 21 '12 at 16:07

10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted

As a non-native English speaker, and knowing your background, I would expect you to do the following:

  • Whenever I pronounce something plain wrong, just politely correct me. I'm eager to learn and improve. I will be thankful to you. If you don't feel like directly correcting me, just repeating what I said with the correct pronunciation will be enough.

  • If, however, I pronounce something just different than you, but my pronunciation is correct in my language, don't make me feel I'm wrong. This happens a lot with acronyms: I'm very used to pronounce them spelling each letter in Spanish and that is a correct pronunciation, although might not be the 'official' one.

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I do pronounce it their way when it's not too far off. If they're way off, then I make an effort to say it the right way. –  chiurox Oct 15 '10 at 4:54
I like when native english speakers correct me as well. I learnt English in programming books and few computer games when I was very young, so I've still some weird way to pronounce words (I had to invent the pronounciation since I never heard those words). –  user2567 Oct 15 '10 at 6:23
Having learned programming by books in a non-tech region, I too approximated pronunciation for technical words and jargon. But English is my native language. (The region was Miami, FL, USA.) –  Huperniketes Oct 15 '10 at 7:51
I think most people appreciated being corrected when speaking about anything in any language that isn't native to them. (In my case, it's french). –  Steve Evers Oct 15 '10 at 15:35
I will admit, as an American, that I often have trouble understanding non-native English speakers. So it's a big help to me if they can pronounce as closely as possible. A good example, SAP wants customer objects to start with 'Z. I work with people who pronounce that as 'G' which causes confusion at times. –  Paul Aug 21 '12 at 14:17

Now and then, I watch videos in other than English languages and between the video (which the text on the screen is usually in English) and the few English words that come through in their talk, I can usually figure out close to what they are saying.

As far as the coworkers, as long as I can understand them, I stopped correcting them, but I say it right, unless they don't understand me (but I try the correct way first).

If someone wants to correct their language, they will do it with exposure to good examples.

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I would just use the colloquial pronunciation unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, for instance if you are giving a presentation. You would be amazed how many different ways "MySQL" is pronounced throughout the world.

I'd rather spend my time being understood and not hated due to constant pedantic correction than save the world from its many linguistic sins :)

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I agree. The purpose of communication is to communicate, not to change the world (usually). –  Fishtoaster Oct 15 '10 at 4:44
Or 'postgresql' :) –  chiurox Oct 15 '10 at 4:53

I've read several accounts of how Novell employees, technical and marketing alike, use different pronunciations of Suse, often in the same session. That's one person, changing the way he pronounces it over the course of a presentation.

If an organization can't settle on one vocal identifier for its own product, why would you insist that the pronunciation of a term from one language must be followed in any other language? We can't even find agreement on what most of the terms mean without heavily contextualizing them.

(I'm just the opposite. I tried to find native terms for words used for one of my products like "outline" and "tags", and the users of the localized versions wanted the English words! It's like contaminating their culture!)

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case with SuSE is that it used to be German distribution, thus German pronunciation rules applied, rather than English ones. –  vartec Aug 21 '12 at 16:04

I have worked with many non native speakers and in each case I would ask them if they would like me to correct any non standard idiom. I most cases the people were excited from me to help as many people are too self conscious to correct someone.

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I simply pronounce them the way I was taught. It even extends to saying out "S.Q.L." instead of "sequel". There is no true wrong or right in these. Just simply accept others may pronounce them differently, and take note of it so you can understand them subsequently.

This issue isn't constrained to just technological terms. I do not expect an Englishman to communicate to us with a Singaporean chinese accent. He can continue speaking with his native accent and I will accept it. Likewise he has to accept me speaking in my own accent. We ought to do our best to learn and listen, and follow through the language nuances of others.

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I use a word from my language if one exists or an English word if it's the only one I know. What other people do is their own business and I'm fine with whatever as long as I understand what they are talking about. I never try to correct anyone, it's impolite and irritating, you should be pretty close with each other to accept corrections.

And yes, those who say "other people are happy when I suggest correcting them" - how else are other people supposed to react if they are polite? "Get off you pedantic freak"? :)

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I personally don't consider this a problem. If you speak your native language with your colleague and you have to use technical terms you don't have in your language, it is OK to leverage the English words in any form understandable to you both.

I'm Ukrainian and at work in my local office we speak Russian, and some English words get transformed into Russian-like forms, I mean, adding prefixes, suffixes, endings, making a Russian-like verbs out of English nouns... It is perfectly understandable to everyone, and in most cases it is just fun, and finally it can be called a tech slang :) So, that's fine and doesn't bring any inconveniences.

I should also mention that most of these people are very good in English and when we speak with our colleagues from other English-speaking departments, both in verbal and written form, they use the same words correctly. So, these two facts are not mutually exclusive.

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We use English technical terms when I talk to colleagues in Spanish. If there is a mispronunciation, I do not correct them as I do not see it necessary for carrying out the business functions I'm supposed to do. If it does not help me get through the task I need to complete, then I don't do it.

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While it be more prevalent with English technical terms in non-English speakers, it is not unique to that.

It all really depends on the situation and the person. I work in an office that uses many different technologies, and I happen to use some of the "newer" stuff compared to many other people, and people sometimes come to me to learn some of the new technologies. If they (English or non-English alike) describe something to me in a non-traditional or non-standard way, I'll find a way to gently correct them, either directly or indirectly.

For instance, I have a colleague that pronounced the LINQ technology "Lin-queue" rather than the generally accepted "link."

I don't push the matter at all - I just want to help them understand the conventional way of pronouncing something, in case they (for instance) discuss it with others.

I've been on the receiving end of this as well, and generally accept the help.

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I'm totally OK with all kinds of acronym pronunciations. Usually I say it the way most of them say it here. –  chiurox Oct 15 '10 at 18:43
I didn't necessarily mean just acronyms - it was just a general example. If I could think of a non-acronym example, I'd put it here. :) –  Wonko the Sane Oct 15 '10 at 18:48

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