Do you recall the first time you stepped into an international business reception at a major hotel and found yourself amidst a sea of Asian faces? If so, you may also have noticed a diversity of Asian cultures and conversations in some incomprehensible languages: Cantonese Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and perhaps others. If you have been put off when people in your presence have spoken a language other than English, you are not alone.
Perhaps it’s attributable in part to shifting demographics, which has attracted people from across the globe, but there’s no denying the growth in cultures that have permeated Douglas and surrounding Georgia counties, their schools, businesses and neighborhoods. And that growth has been accompanied by an increase in the number of accents and the challenges that come with communicating through accent differences.
No matter how hard I work at it, I often struggle attempting to communicate with someone with a “heavy” accent. Am I alone? A situation a few years ago, one that left me feeling woefully incompetent, made this poignantly clear. Here’s what happened. Tell me if it resonates.
Language is one of the greatest gifts that we humans possess. It sets us apart from every other creature on earth. Scientists, experimenting with animals to determine the extent of their language efficacy, report that animals do communicate among themselves, as various studies in Nature and other scientific journals attest, but so far nothing has been found to equal humans’ ability to express themselves in free-flowing complex and comprehensible language. Words, the vehicle of language, are a capital asset, and even in this age of twitter and text messages, real words still matter and are influential.
Our thoughts and emotions can be couched in words and phrases laden with the potential for extensive good, yet words are inherently fleeting, and it is precisely because of their evanescence that we ought to be careful to use words that leave no harmful residue of negativity. As children we were told to choose our words carefully because, once spoken, words can’t be pulled back in like a kite. This caution also holds true for us in adulthood. We, too, need to be careful how we use the gift of words. But when we observe how words are being used in the current national atmosphere, we have to conclude that some grownups, especially those in high places, tend to forget to mind the words of their mouths.
Empathy can go a long way towards understanding how sensitive language diversity can be. For me it was years ago when I spoke to an audience of 190 German executives in Dusseldorf – in English, of course, but had nothing to say during dinner when everyone spoke German except me – or when I sat around the table in Amsterdam with 25 folks who adroitly moved from one language to another. Woefully deficient – not excluded – the proverbial “bump on the log,” is how I felt in those uncomfortable situations.
Hold my experience (and think through yours) as we turn now to today’s column.
Out of exasperation, some will bellow the words, “Speak English!” Others? Well, my hunch is that most will roll their eyes and think but, wisely, not utter those words. And if you add to the angst the difficulty it can be when someone switches to another language, one you don’t know, the tension only escalates.
But wait, wait, wait!
“Biggest bang for the buck!”…..”Firing on all cylinders”….”Let’s bury the hatchet”. “Let’s raise the bar”.
“Think out of the box.” “They need to ramp up soon.” “Level the playing field!”
Ever notice how metaphors – figures of speech in which one concept is used in a place of another to suggest an analogy – have etched themselves into everyday conversations?
Communicating with clients and customers is the most important job for any marketing professional. Clear, precise communication skills are an integral part of connecting with any audience. When the contact is from a different culture than the marketer, communications can get tricky. But understanding how to convey a message appropriately to a multicultural audience in the global economy is critical.
The discussion of diversity in the South brought to mind a few experiences I have personally had. It goes without saying that people from different geographical areas in the United States, and the world for that matter, are different in many ways. Speaking in the distinctive Southern dialect, I am often set apart from my peers, students, friends, and professional in the United States and internationally.
Business English has become a basic requirement in the current corporate landscape. Without a solid understanding of English grammar and usage, a non-native English speaker automatically loses any advantage ithe commerce global world. Whether within negotiations, presentations, or just social conversation, many citizens of European nations are realizing that the global economy is driven by the English-language. In the Netherlands, Language Institutes and communications coaches are becoming the norm. Germans, Belgians, and most Western Europeans frequently travel to language schools in the Netherlands to improve their business English vocabulary. In doing so, they also develop their multicultural competencies.
Before I returned to the literary field as a writer, I had the incredible privilege of teaching English to business corporations in Germany that have a multinational clientele as well as employees from every nation. As an expatriate living outside of the United States of America, one of the first lessons I learned, was that the English Language is diverse. Pronunciation, spelling and the phonetic stress placed on certain words are different. In fact, the vocabulary may be the same, but it does not necessarily mean that the words have the same meaning.