Always correcting my German

Question

“While learning to speak the German language in their work environment, why does the average German not allow you to finish the sentence before jumping in to correct your grammar or vocabulary? Whereas the average American is very accommodating to allow the foreign learner of English to finish their sentences before providing feedback.”

UC

An important question. My thoughts are the following:

Germans and Interrupting

Germans listen carefully. They are taught at a young age to listen attentively to their elders and to people of authority. They are taught not to interrupt, even if they are being told something which they already know. To interrupt is considered to be disrespectful, arrogant and pushy.

In fact, because Germans seldom interrupt or provide signals via facial expressions, it can be difficult for non-Germans to know what they are thinking, if they agree with you, whether you should go into more detail or move on to the next point.

Therefore, if Germans interrupt – and the intent is not to be helpful – then they are, indeed, being rude. But again, only if the intent is not to be helpful.

Germans and Correcting

Germans often give unsolicited advice, which almost always comes in the form of criticism. In most cases the statement is accurate and the advice helpful. In some cases, however, individual Germans simply want to show that they know better.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, Germans give unsolicited advice because they sincerely want to be helpful. Members go to Communication_Unsolicited Advice.

Germans and Foreign Languages

Germany is located in the middle of continental Europe. It has nine neighbors. Germany of the past has always had many neighbors. Understanding them was critical for both trade and nation-state relations.

The Germans, therefore, value highly learning foreign languages. And because they are perfectionists, they take a studied approach to learning, speaking and writing those languages.

This begins in elementary and high school (gymnasium) with their own language, which can only be mastered by mastering first its complex grammar.

Germans, consciously or unconsciously, judge the intelligence of another person by how well they speak. Varied vocabulary and sophisticated sentence structure indicate to them a well-educated person.

For Germans, language is more than a tool. It should be respected, handled properly, its rules understood and followed. Germans would rather not say anything than say it imperfectly.

Germans and Mistakes

For Germans, avoiding mistakes is synonymous with progress. They are exact, correct, analytical, untiring in their desire to uncover, analyze and solve problems.

It should be of no surprise that the German people continue to invent, develop and market so many kinds of technical products.

„Catching errors early” is a key competence in the German context. They expect it from each other, and in almost all areas of German life.

Germans Separate Person and Subject

Germans strive to be sachlich or objective, business-like, factual, to the point, matter of fact. To be sachlich means to focus on the matter while leaving emotions out.

sachlich report, critique, comment, argument, judgement. Sachlich also means to leave out superfluous or gratuitous language. Sachlich is to the point.

In the workplace Germans separate the personal from the professional. This is especially the case when it comes to feedback. Feedback should address performance only.

It is based on the facts and is non-personal. German feedback ignores the personalities involved. It should be objective.

Americans and Interrupting

Interrupting is considered to be impolite in the American context, also. However, depending on the people in the conversation, it is acceptable and considered to be interactive.

Family, friends, work colleagues often interrupt each other in order to clarify points, move the conversation in a different direction, add supporting information. When and when not to interrupt is dependent on the specific context.

Americans and Correcting

Americans rarely give unsolicited advice. It is considered to be arrogant, presumptuous and personally insulting. Even among family and friends Americans give advice only after having been asked.

Germans should be very careful about giving advice to Americans. Unsolicited advice – which typically is negative – can be highly insulting to Americans.

They‘ll think: „Who in the world are you too tell me how to act, behave, live my life?“ Giving unsolicited advice is a direct challenge to the American understanding of freedom. Tread here carefully here.

Americans and Language

Americans are an immigrant people. None of their forefathers – except for those from English-speaking countries such as England, Ireland, Canada, etc. – spoke English as a native language.

And because the U.S. continues to be an immigrant nation, the American people have a high tolerance for those who do not have perfect command of English.

In addition, for Americans language is a tool, a medium, for understanding. They focus more on the substance of the communication and less so on the form.

And Americans are a pragmatic people. What one says is more relevant than how one says it. Mistakes in pronunciation or grammar are unimportant.

Americans and Learning

Americans learn by doing. They make mistakes, learn from them, move forward. In fact, American parents encourage their children to take on more that they can handle, to try things out, to experiment, to stretch themselves.

Companies in the U.S. (at the corporate level, in a division, down to individual teams) set stretch goals, which by their very logic imply that they will most likely not be met. The goal, however, is not the number, but the progress towards it.

For Americans, important in the end is not how many steps you’ve been thrown backwards (mistake, error, failure), but how many steps you have moved forward (progress, improvement, success). Error-avoidance is seldom the path to success in the American culture.

Therefore, Americans take less notice of the mistakes made, as long as they are not too grave, and not constantly repeated. Instead they note effort, direction and persistence.

Germans will correct your German because they want to help you. That’s good. Be thankful.

Americans will not correct a non-native speaker’s English because they care more about the substance. That’s good. Be thankful.

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