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It says here you speak foreigner

Few people see the importance of written or spoken communication in business, preferring to use a combination of hand gestures and grunts. But I, having worked in a number of environments with a wide variety of cultures and languages, see things differently.

I’ve worked with customers on 6 continents, and managed teams in Japan, Korea, Singapore, The Netherlands, and the US. I’ve spent time sitting with two computers reproduce issues in Korean (by performing the same steps on an English language computer at the same time, to make sure I was clicking the right options). Prior to learning German, I worked as an intern in a particle accelerator attempting to translate German documentation with the first online translator website (this did not go well).

My philosophy

The thing I’ve learned better than anything else is that it’s important to listen, check into things, and know what questions you need to ask.

Also that language isn’t really about words, it’s about ideas behind those words. And generally, that’s where problems arise. Cultural differences and misunderstandings can sink any conversation.

But if you can make that clear to people, and get them talking with that understanding and you both try to understand each other, you’ll get a deeper dive into the topic you want to discuss. I try to use that in business conversation.

One of the most interesting lessons I’ve had over the years is that when people don’t understand something, we as humans try to make it easier for them in the worst possible way. We use fewer words, and simple phrases. The reality is that generally the more words you use the easier it is for a person to catch your meaning. When you use fewer words, there’s a lot less opportunity for them to understand.

At least this is how I justify talking too much.

So do you speak other languages?

All of the below samples were written by me, with limited attempt to get the language just right. I want to give a genuine idea of the level of my various language skills in July of 2020 (with the unfortunate problem being that I can show you how poorly I communicate, not how well I read or comprehend).

Hoe is uw Nederlands? Ik spreek echt heel goed Nederlands. Voor twaalf jaar heb ik in Nederland gewoond, en ik heb een Nederlandse paspoort, maar u weet wel dat in Nederland alle mensen spreken heel goed Engels. Dus het is zeldzaam dat ik ooit spreek Nederlands in het Kantoor. En waneer ik spreek in het kantoor, ik spreek veel minder. Ik ben heel geïntereseerd in het Nederlands, maar niet interessant, per se. Dus, ik kan alles lezen, en als u spreek Nederlands kan ik volgen, maar ik spreek meestal in het Engels, en ik altijd schrijf in het Engels.

Und dein Deutsch? Mein Deutsch Vokabular is begrenzt. Ich “spreche” Deutsch, aber alles Ich sag ist wirklich nür Niederlandish mit einen veruckte aczent. Aber verstehen ist einfach (im Deutschland… in der Nahe von Holland…). Wirklich, Ich verstehe Deutsch sehr gut. Ich verstehe ein bisschen zu gut, um so schlecht zu sprechen.

Habla Espanol? Si, pero no es muy bueno. Es muy zen. No peudo decir nada de la passada or la futura. Hablo de ahora solamente. En un restaurante, hablo ok, pero nunca in la officina.

Is that all?

It might also interest you to know that I speak English.

How is your Japanese? I’m illiterate in Japanese, but I can manage on vacation to get where I need to be.

How is your French? I believe French is a beautiful language, and while I would like to speak French when visiting French speaking regions, I feel that my attempts will only tarnish that beauty.

How is your Italian? I can say good luck in a way that will make a sailor blush. I have yet to find a business value to this knowledge.