General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Language Barrier at Work!

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Hi everyone. I started a new project, I'm working in a new industry that is very challenging and interesting and something I have little experience in. To make things more difficult the company is local but was originally started in another country, so no one in our small office speaks much English. Some speak it more than others but there seems to be a gap of understanding withus. Everyone is really sweet and works hard but it's a language I am not even a little familiar with and one that is hard to learn on your own, but I'm willing to learn a bit.

Over the last several days there has been issues with me taking a really long time doing a task because there was a misunderstanding on exactly what program to use and where the files were or exactly what the task was. I was told to make something from scratch but the main boss said she did not relay that to her assistant, she told me to update something already in the system... even though I made sure to reiterate what was needed.

Have you ever encountered this? We have started to make sure to have things in writing which has helped but is there anything etiquette wise I can do to help? I have researched the business culture and am following those etiquette rules as best as I can!

Would it be possible to budget for an interpreter for a period of time?

Can you get online and hit up a translator site?  Babbelfish (sp?) is one that works (we can use that where I work for customers for whom we're really stuck understanding).  None of them is perfect, but even rudimentary translation to help understand instructions better would be better than misunderstanding something to the point that you get lectured about it!

A computer translation site is better than nothing, but beware, depending on which languages are involved, the result can be worse than nonsense: it can turn the meaning of the sentence around to its opposite, especially between two languages that have different ways of saying negatives. Consider the difference between (a hypothetical, but realistic example).

Donít push the red button until the nuclear emergency signal sounds.
Hold down the red button until the nuclear emergency signal no longer sounds.

These are examples of translations that computer translations can get wrong in the sense of reversing the meaning of the sentence because it gets confused by the negative.

Another one is when translating between a language where the adjective comes before the noun (like English), and one where the adjective comes after the noun (like French, Spanish, and other Latin languages). Itís really common for an adjective to float away from its noun and get attached to the wrong noun in translation Ė imagine the diplomatic pitfalls that result!

Ah yes: "The vodka is good but the steak is rotten."

(A possibly apocryphal result when "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" was run through an English-Russian and then Russian-English translator.)


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