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Tinker Tailor: Some thoughts on cultural perspective

Shady figure walking the streets at nightIn this post, Jeremy Comfort discusses cultural perspectives as seen in the media. Jeremy will be talking about the importance of culture in business at the BESIG conference in Dubrovnik.

I went last night to see Thomas Alfredson’s interpretation of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I loved it, but was struck that this feeling was by no means universal. Last year another very British film – The King’s Speech – swept all before it at the Oscars while Tinker Tailor failed to win a mention at the recent Cannes festival. The King’s Speech fitted well with many foreigners’ perception of Britain – royalty, class and pluck in the face of adversity, whereas Tinker Tailor was stuck in the rather grubby mire of Cold War England.

On the large and small screen, Britain has done well selling its nostalgia for a more glorious past. Many years ago, Chariots of Fire took Hollywood by storm and more recently Downton Abbey (another upstairs-downstairs drama) is being sold to networks across the world. France has mined different veins but reinforced stereotypes in the films of Chabrol which usually portray the breakdown of bourgeois life and also a certain whimsicality in films like Amélie.

Here in the UK, things are beginning to stir. Fiction and the small screen is being invaded by very culturally specific offerings from Scandinavia – the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy and Wallander from Sweden, the gripping TV series The Killing from Denmark and the thrillers of Jo Nesbo from Norway. We have also been much absorbed by series imports from the States – notably The Wire and Mad Men.

Of course we like them firstly because they are good – strong stories, well-acted. But I think we also like them because they can give us an insight into a different culture, even if we still need to guard against stereotyping. Britain has been very slow to embrace foreign films with subtitles (I, on the other hand, have to admit to even watching the Baltimore-based series The Wire with the subtitles switched on!) but it seems finally we are changing. This sort of cultural curiosity is what we need to develop in all our Business English students.

International business is breaking out from the Anglo-Saxon hegemony which has dominated for so long. Companies are increasingly appointing their new generation of leaders from emerging markets. Business English also needs to break the mould. The dominant models of British and American English have led to an over-dominant cultural framework. We are beginning to draw on new perspectives and these need to be from non-native trainers and writers from the emerging economies.

The business world is changing very rapidly and we all need to keep our heads up and alive to these changes.

Do you think Business English materials are sufficiently international? What kind of foreign imports in your media do you benefit or suffer from?

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