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Perhaps the funniest language barrier duo of all time — Basil Fawlty and Manuel from Fawlty Towers

Twice in the last month, I’ve overheard two different neighbors attempt to communicate with contractors performing work on their homes. In both cases, the contractors spoke just enough English to get by and both neighbors’ remedy for the language barrier was the same — talking louder and slower.

This, of course, doesn’t work.

Slowing the cadence might help if someone has a tendency to speak very quickly, but speaking louder arguably does not. So…why do we do this?

Suppose you spend 99.9% of your time speaking to people fluent in your native language. If, for some reason, they can’t understand…


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Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash

During a trip to the hospital, I was inevitably asked for a urine sample to help diagnose the shooting pain in my abdomen. Unfortunately, the timing of their request didn’t coincide with my ability to provide one. “No problem”, said the nurse, “whenever you’re ready” and left a specimen jar in the room with me. (I’m not sure why these need to be made of clear plastic which only seems to publicize the fact that you peed in a cup and are now forced to casually walk around with it.)

However, I was quite eager to do whatever it took…


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Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Driving In Vermont, I found a brilliant (if probably unintentional) psychological “nudge” in the form of a sign nailed to a tree in someone’s yard. The sign read “Drive Slowly. Deaf Dog”.

I encourage you, before reading further, to just ponder those words for a few moments. I certainly did. Would I need to slow down for a deaf dog? I guess that makes sense. I certainly wasn’t speeding but, whatever speed I was going, I decreased it while glancing around for a dog that seemed unaware of the car. Then I thought about it a bit more… a deaf


Being on camera is unintuitive, uncomfortable, and unnatural. It combines all of the unsettling fear of public speaking with the disconnect of not actually being in front of people.

Unlike in person, where eye contact with individual audience members is brief and constantly shifting, on camera, your stage is a rectangle and your “gaze area” is extremely narrow. You’re no longer speaking at a room of people collectively, you’re speaking to a group, but individually. This subtly changes how you make eye contact.

Unless you’ve been “media-trained” and coached on being on camera, you will likely make some common, natural…


(This article hints at a much bigger topic that I’m sure I’ll attack eventually — the difference between what makes something easy to learn and what makes something easy or productive to use are not the same thing.)

Given a task where one approach requires 3 steps and another approach requires 3 steps, it would seem that it’s a toss-up between the two. But much depends on what those steps involve; specifically, what’s the “cognitive load” to the user? How much mental switching do they need to do?

One such example is Sharp microwave ovens. While they don’t do anything…

Daniel Brown

I make software things and write cookbooks

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