The Hidden Meaning Behind Broken English

Have you ever come across someone trying to communicate with you speaking pretty bad English? what was your reaction?

This is what I refer to as ‘Broken English’.


It is English spoken with a lot of mistakes, typically by a non-native speaker.


As someone who loves travelling, I’ve had opportunities to meet people from different parts of the world, who have other languages as their ‘mother tongue’. Yet, the impressive feat, which no one really appreciates, is his or her willingness to try to communicate with you in ‘English’ (or in another language, foreign to them but local to you).

Think about how you must sound when you travel to a foreign place and try to communicate in the local language? E.g speaking basic French in Paris. I imagine you feel that you are making tremendous effort to communicate, but to them it must sound like you are speaking terrible French.


Most people never think to try communicating with foreigners they meet in their own language or to muster up the courage to learn it, no matter how rudimentary. Perhaps because I love foreign language movies or the fact that I grew up hearing my local language, and have been exposed to other foreign languages, I appreciate what broken English means when I hear it.

Simply put, it means:


I am Bi-Lingual” or “I am Multi-Lingual”, and “English is not my first language”.


The fact that someone is brave enough to learn a foreign language and attempt communicating in that language is a pretty amazing feat, and one we should start appreciating a lot more. Better still, we need to encourage more people to learn languages, to break out of their ‘local language’ comfort zone, and become more of a global citizen.

I believe that we are more likely to appreciate travelling to foreign places if we understand and can communicate (no matter how limited) with locals or are willing to learn. Immersion definitely helps you pick up languages faster. I remember how much better my understanding of foreign languages got after spending more time around locals who barely spoke any English.

Technology seems to have made life a lot easier for travellers with this waverly labs creation that translates languages ‘in-ear’:

Pretty cool eh?


So, the next time you meet someone who speaks ‘broken English’, think about how amazing it is that they are trying to speak another language and be encouraging and helpful, not dismissive or derogatory.





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