Top tip for international communication

Do you want to communicate with people from other cultures? Then this video is for you.
Back in the 1980s computer scientists were creating the world wide web and looking for ways to connect computers that spoke different languages. The Dutch scientist, Jon Postel, came up with a computer protocol that’s helpful and relevant for international and intercultural communication today.

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Top tip for communicating across cultures

I want to share my number one, top tip for English learners. It might surprise you, but I think it’s really useful for anyone who wants to communicate with people from other countries and cultures.
OK, Vicki, what’s your top tip for communicating in English?
Well, before I tell you, we need to travel back in time. Are you ready?
So where are we?
In the 1980s.
Hey, this was a great decade. Oh, I like your outfit.
Thank you. Big hair. Big earrings.
And big shoulders.
Oh yes, I’m wearing shoulder pads. And you look pretty cute as well.
Thank you. I think we called this the preppie look.
Very nice.
So what’s going on around here? Who is in power?
Well… in the United Kingdom, it’s Margaret Thatcher. She’s the Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative Party.
So in America it’s Ronald Reagan. He’s the Republican President, and he’s a conservative too.
When we’re talking about politics, conservative describes politicians who don’t like sudden social change.
They like traditional ways of doing things.
And liberal politicians like new ideas and they support people having a lot of political or economic freedom. But I think you use this word a little differently in America.
Yes. Liberal can mean the same thing, but in American English liberal also means left wing. So in America liberals look to the government to solve social problems.
That’s different in British English. We’d say politicians like that are left wing, but they’re not necessarily liberal.
OK, that’s enough politics. Are you going to tell us your top tip now?
Ooo yes. My top tip for communicating in English comes from a nineteen eighties invention.
Which one? There were lots of new inventions in the 1980s.
Oh yes.
There were computer games like Donkey Kong. I loved that game!
And the game boy! That was a lot of fun.
Compact disks were invented in the nineteen eighties
And disposable contact lenses. Disposable means you can throw them away.
Disposable cameras were invented in the 1980s too.
There was the first Apple Macintosh computer. I had one like this.
And Microsoft Windows. That was a huge thing and of course we still use it today.
But what was the biggest invention?
Let me think.
It changed our lives. It changed everyone’s lives
I’ve got it!
DNA. Genetic fingerprinting.
Good guess. But no. I’m talking about the internet – or more specifically, the world wide web.
Duh! Of course!
Back in the 1980s computer scientists were building a worldwide network of computers. It wasn’t easy because the computers spoke different languages. Getting them to communicate was a problem – a big challenge they had to overcome.
Somehow they had to make the computers connect and talk to one another – and be understood clearly. So they came up with protocols– protocols are rules and behaviours that computers have to follow.
One of the fathers of the internet was a Dutch computer scientist called Jon Postel and he wrote a protocol that went: be conservative in what you do and be liberal in what you accept from others. It became famous.
So be conservative and be liberal. But Jon Postel wasn’t talking about politics.
No. He was using conservative and liberal with a different meaning. It’s a similar meaning but it’s different.
Remember these computers were speaking different languages. As I understand it, when Jon Postel said conservative he meant the computers should try to send clear messages – written in traditional ways that other computers expected –so nothing surprising. But when the computers received messages they had to be liberal – they had to be open to new or different ways of saying things.
It helped them to communicate and understand one other.
So is this your top tip for communicating?
Yes! Well, it’s not MY top tip because it’s Jon Postel’s, but I think it’s very valuable.
People and computers face challenges when they’re communicating internationally. There are language differences and there are also different ways of thinking – cultural stuff – so you have to be extra clear when you’re speaking or writing. But when you’re reading or listening, you want to be very flexible and open to new ideas so you can accept different ways of thinking and saying things.
So be conservative when you’re speaking and liberal when you’re listening. Actually that sounds like a good code for life in general.
I think you’re right. I think when Jon Postel wrote this, he was acknowledging that there would be communication mistakes with the computers.
It’s the same when we’re speaking or writing in another language. We’re going to make mistakes.
Exactly. But that shouldn’t stop us trying. We just have to be as clear as we can.
And keep trying.
Exactly.
I wonder what our viewers think about this. Do you think that this is a useful tip? Write and tell us in the comments.
And let us know what your top tip is for communicating in English.
We love hearing from you.
So keep watching and subscribe.
Oh, Vicki. One last question.
What’s that?
How are we going to get back to the twenty first century?
I think I’ve found something that might help there.
Hey, is that a DeLorean?
Yep.
With a flux capacitator?
Yep.
Then it’s back to the future, baby!
Yay!

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