We launched this “On the Job” series to find out how people use English in their working lives. We talk to them about jargon in their profession, writing on the job and what advice they’d give to learners of English.
Who do you work for?
Nik Fogle: I work for Renmin University of China.
What is your position?
I’m a lecturer in the School of Philosophy.
How important is being able to speak/write good English in your job?
It’s absolutely essential. I explain a lot of abstract ideas to students in English, and very few of them speak it fluently. I’m always trying to adjust the complexity of my speech to match my students’ listening abilities. There’s usually a give and take between trying to say things simply and making sure the content is coming through.
Does your field have its own particular jargon? Could you share some of the more unusual terms with us?
Tons. We’ve got words like “epiphenomenalism,” which is the idea that the causation between the mind and the body is one-way only (i.e., that physical things can affect mental things, but not the other way around), and “hermeneutics,” which is a name for the study of symbolic understanding and interpretation. Übermenschen, dialectics, categorical imperatives… it never ends!
Have any new terms been coined in your field recently? If yes, which?
My favorite new term is actually a very old one, but it has recently been resurrected. It comes from medieval philosophy, and ultimately from Aristotle. The word is “habitus,” and it is supposed to encompass all of a person’s habits and dispositions, from their posture to their taste in food, say, and the way these things contribute to the person’s social identity.
Do you ever ask another person to proofread your work? If so, in which circumstances?
I have people proofread it all the time. The more sets of eyes, the better! Luckily my friends and colleagues are a pretty patient bunch, and they’re usually happy to indulge me.
What mistakes or phrases in English do you find most annoying? Why?
My students are fond of using the phrase, “as we all know,” when they’re writing papers, since it’s a common rhetorical phrase in Chinese writing. The trouble is, they often like to use it to introduce ideas that are far from universally accepted, or even controversial. Since it comes up so much, I just use the opportunity to teach them the English idiom “begging the question.”
What advice would you give to learners of English to help them improve their English in the workplace?
Probably the best thing is just to listen carefully to how people talk, and practice imitating them.
Would you like to add anything you think our readers would find interesting?
I’m interested to see how pervasive computing is affecting our ability to write. Email and text messaging seem to encourage a much more clipped style of thinking than, say, composing a paragraph or an essay. Actually, the “delete” key might be the worst, in terms of forming bad habits. On the advice of a friend, I recently started writing out rough drafts in longhand. I already feel like my thinking is clearer when I write on paper. It’s still a new experiment, but so far, so good.
Want to hear what some of the other interviewees said? Head over to the On the Job series home page here.