Magazine article Workforce

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Magazine article Workforce

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Article excerpt

Linguistically speaking, English is a messy language. Its roots are diverse, its variations are numerous, and many of its grammatical rules are complex and riddled with exceptions. And yet, as one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, most of our international dealings are handled in our native English.

Many of our counterparts in traditionally non-English-speaking countries were raised in schools with mandatory training in foreign languages often Englishbut such training has not been emphasized in the United States. So millions of dollars are spent each year by U.S. companies to provide training in foreign languages and cultural sensitivity

After all this training and sensitizing, there's one simple but significant adjustment that still needs to happen in most cross-cultural interaction. It involves a conscientious effort to ensure that our communications-verbal, written and other visual-are as clear and easy to understand as possible.

The amazing thing is you don't need to be an expert in conjugations, prepositions or adverbs to do this. All it takes is a flexible attitude on our part and a little effort to ensure we relay information at a level appropriate for the other party. This sounds simple, but there's a fine line between making yourself understood and appearing to be condescending. Take the following six quick and simple steps to enhance effectiveness at communicating across the language barrier with international associates.

Some phrases don't translate. When listening to a presentation or reading a report, have you ever wished you could cut through the technical jargon, buzzwords and acronyms so the material was easier to understand? Consider the challenges faced by your international counterparts when, in their dealings with us, they encounter this type of confusing communication in a language foreign to them.

At a recent seminar with HR managers from the far-flung reaches of six continents, I recognized the need for making ourselves better understood. All the participants spoke at least some English, although in most cases, their native tongue was different than that of the presenters. As you may know, there's a difference between carrying on a simple conversation and jumping into the complexities of technical terminology. As the first presenter arose, the colloquialisms and jargon started to flow:

This is the "meat and potatoes" of human resources. (Blank stares.) It's a "dog-eat-dog world." (Noticeable concerns regarding the lunch menu.)

* "Ramifications of termination indemnification obligation situations ..." (Lost a few native English speakers on that one.)

Am I making myself "as clear as mud?" (Unfortunately so.) At the conclusion of the seminar, I was joking with my colleagues about the use of such idiomatic phrases to a global audience when the keynote speaker started his speech by saying, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

This challenge isn't limited to foreign languages. While on an expat assignment in Australia, my family quickly learned our English was not the only English language. We were still learning new spellings and expanding our vocabularies on the day we returned to the United States.

Laugh only at yourself. If you've ever studied a foreign language, you've invariably experienced the embarrassment of a mispronounced word, incorrect conjugation or any other mistake that causes a look of befuddlement on your listener's face. …

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