Good Communication Skills Have Never Been So Important

I got an email the other day from a blog reader who tells me that there are now more non-native English speakers than native English speakers. That leaves ample opportunities for linguistic subtleties going unnoticed. I suppose it can happen to native English speakers as well.

Here is an example:

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post entitled “You will not find any LemonJellos in Malaysia.” The blog post referred to new laws in Malaysia that banned a variety of non-standard names for children:

Parents will not be able to call their babies after animals, insects, fruit, vegetables, or colours.

Numbers are also not allowed, so little James Bonds cannot flaunt their 007 status on their ID cards.

Other restrictions stop parents giving children royal or honorary titles as names or calling their little ones after Japanese cars.

I ended the post with a plea to blog readers to help us find the ever-elusive twins named OrangeJello and LemonJello:

By the way, we are still looking for OrangeJello and LemonJello. Despite many good leads, we have not found them. If you know how to find them, please contact Dubner and/or me. There is a small gift for you if you lead us to them.

A few days ago I got a friendly email from a woman in Malaysia. Here is what she wrote:

Just read your column. I know of two stores that sell Jello in Kuala Lumpur. Look in the Ampang area for the two expat groceries. I can’t vouch for what flavors are currently in stock but they do sell a variety of Jello flavors. Hock Chun on Jalan Ampang also might sell Jello. I believe that the grocery in KLCC also sells Jello.


You know what would be a great name for a kid? 7. It's Mickey Mantle's number!


Seven Costanza!

The Dread Pirate Robert

"Worldwide there have always been more non-native English speakers then native English speakers. I assume you are referring to the U.S. only?"
-post #4

Always? There has'nt always been english speakers.
Clearly there have only been "more non-native english speakers than native [speakers]" in recent history. I'd be interseted in a date for this accurence.


My suspicions were that it was the xkcd joke, thanks for confirming Rev Matt!

Mike B

I wonder when some Asian computer hacker parents will craft a name for their child intended to create mischief in computer database systems. Something along the lines of "Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;--". There is also the more whimsical name of "Help I'm Trapped In A Driver's License Factory".


Ostensible. Some people just gotta learn how to read between the lines.

Being a Chinese in Malaysia, I come to realise the the influence of our mother tongue has dissipated little by little as everyone is consolidating the foundation of English amongst the younger ones especially. English has become the first language especially to those living in the suburb.

The government has taken the initiative of implementing the usage of English as the medium in both Science and Mathematical subjects effective from year 2004. However, there has been some news flying around, stating that the subjects mentioned above will be taught in BAHASA MALAYSIA which is the native language of the so-called native. From my point of view, it's definitely a retrograde step if this is true.

Frankly speaking, the fundamental reason why the local graduates are unemployed is because they can't communicate well in English. Some are not even capable to propose their idea in a sentence fluently. I am, in fact, one of the the first batch guinea pigs for this project-to study Maths and Science subjects in English. I was 12. Had they been in my shoe, they will tell you the significance of the execution taken. The nexus between the cause and effect is very simple. The idea on reverting to studying Mathematical and science subjects is as if exacerbating the potential of the younger generation.

Face the social indoctrination: English is the lingua-franca. Don't botch us up.

And sorry for such lengthy epistle. -.-"


Rev Matt

Note the joke posted frmo Mike B is from the webcomic xkcd:

Ronan French

Worldwide there have always been more non-native English speakers then native English speakers. I assume you are referring to the U.S. only?

More generally, does the phrase "non-native English speaker" mean:

a) a person who does not speak English as their "first" language
b) a person not from your country (in this context, the U.S.) who speaks English.

I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

Ronan French
Dublin, Ireland.


Would it be legal for paernts in the United States to attach a 007 to the end of their childs name? It strikes me as something they would have outlawed here as well, but I can't really find anything online to prove that in either direction.


I would guess that a non-native English speaker is someone who speaks English not as a first language.


17. lol

She was being sarcastic! That was the best post.


"there are now more non-native English speakers than native English speakers"

You mean in the world? Or in Malaysia? Or in the U.S.? Because if it's one of the first two, it's absurd, but if it's the third, then the fact that a Malaysian woman isn't a native speaker of English seems totally irrelevant and unsurprising.

But it is a funny story.


I think that is hilarious - the whole post, but especially all the restrictions on Malaysian children's names! So why can't they be named after Japanese cars? Would they be allowed to be named after... um... American cars?


Well, I know it's not who you're looking for, but there is a student on the football team at Wake Forest University named Gelo Orange who is originally Haitian.


Hock Chun on Jalan Ampang does not sell Jello Gelatin only Jello Pudding as far as I know


They say that you should take pride in the country's honour.

How about naming your child after the national fruit, Durian? Or the national flower, Hibiscus? Or perhaps the national anthem, Negaraku?

In the terms of conventional wisdom proposed by John Kenneth Galbraith, it's overated, baybeh.

So what if I name my future son 'Colour'? Hey, it's not A colour.

Nick Booth

How friendly, how helpful, how glocal. I hope you frequent at least one of the shops recommended by that thoughtful woman.


That is too classic to be true, she may have hoped that you'd fall for her sarcasm, hence the joke is on you!


What is a native English speaker anyway? Even native English speakers can have very different meanings for words and phrases. My favorite example is "a rubber," which means something very different to Brits than it does to Americans.


My wife taught at a school with an OrangeJello, who had a brother named LemonJello (not sure if they were twins or not). OrangeJello by my math would be 17-18 years old at this point. This school was in Inglewood, CA. My wife swears she saw the name OrangeJello on the school roster, but only heard from another teacher about the brother, so there is always the chance that half of this story is urban legend.