British indirectness: Interview with Kirsten Florentine Weber

    Business Spotlight Audio 12/2023
    Kirsten Florentine Weber
    © Kirsten Florentine Weber
    Von Melita Cameron-Wood

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    In the following interview, a German climate scientist shares her experience of studying at a British university and receiving feedback on her work from British professors. This is a real-life example of navigating cultural differences through language when living abroad.

    Melita Cameron-Wood: OK, so today, I am joined by Kirsten Florentine Weber, a physicistPhysiker(in)physicist from Bonn. Hello, welcome. Thank you for joining me.

    Kirsten Florentine Weber: Hello, thank you!

    Melita: Could you tell us a little bit about your job and what took you to the UK?

    Kirsten: Yeah, of course. Well, in 2017, I started my PhDPromotionPhD in the UK, in Sheffield. It was in climate science, and the topicThematopic — “Why is our atmosphere becoming drier?” With a background in physics, that was quite new for me. And, well, I stayed in the UK, in Sheffield, for five years. Afterwards, I became a climate scientist, and now, I’m a weather researcherForscher(in)researcher and hydrologistHydrologe/Hydrologinhydrologist.

    Melita: You were using English during your PhD. What was that experience like? Were there ever any situations that you found a bit difficult?

    Kirsten: Yeah, well, it was actually the very first time I went to a country where people speak only English, so speaking with native speakers was quite a challenge for me in the beginning, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming that I didn’t feel too shy to speak. And understanding as such wasn’t an issueProblemissue at all. I could always ask questions about different words. It was more the language behind the words.

    Melita: Did you find that there were ever any misunderstandings while you were speaking in English?

    Kirsten: Yeah, totally. You remind me of a situation. I had four PhD supervisorhier: Doktorvater, -muttersupervisors — all of them British, all of them very friendly and we did fantastic researchForschungresearch together. When it came to my work, for example texts I had written about my research, and I submit sth.etw. einreichen, abgebensubmitted them for them to give me feedback, and they gave me feedback like, “Oh, that’s quite good.” And I felt happy, like, “Wow, I wrote a text, and they said that it’s great, basically. Well, like it’s not great, but it’s almost great, you know? The text was almost done,” I thought. But what they actually meant was more like, “Well, you still need to do a bit of work or quite some work before you could really submit them.” Same with comments like, “It just needs a little bit of tweak sth.etw. verbesserntweaking”, or “I have some minor comments”. I wouldn’t have expected that actually “some minor comments” would mean you need to rewrite the text.

    Melita: I mean I can definitely relate to sth.etw. nachvollziehenrelate to that. I remember when I lived in the UK that this kind of feedback was quite standard. People rarely say exactly what they mean. People often consider it a bit impolite in the UK to be very direct, so it would be very rare to get feedback like, “This needs a total rewrite!” Well, thank you very much for telling me about your time in the UK and your experience working with British people. And if anyone listening has an experience that they would like to share — maybe something that you think might be helpful for other learners of business English — then don’t hesitatezögernhesitate to get in touch with sb.sich mit jmdm. in Verbindung setzenget in touch with the editorialRedaktions-editorial team. Thanks, Kirsten.

    Kirsten: Thank you very much for having me.

    Melita: Bye.

    Kirsten: Thank you. Bye. Have a good day.

    Melita: You, too! Take care. Bye.


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