An article I wrote – ‘Mind Your Language‘ will be published in the: IEE Engineering Management Magazine. Here is an excerpt, enjoy!
Mind Your Language was a comedy series that used to appear on the BBC channel in the late 1970s. The comedy depicted issues faced by immigrants when attempting to learn the English language. On immigrating to the UK, individuals from different countries (Italy, Japan, China, Pakistan, India, Sweden, Spain, and France) were asked to learn English from a British instructor. The comedy vividly displayed how issues of communication, coordination, and organization got disrupted due to lack of common language, context, and expressions. While some of the plots may have been exaggerated for the sake of humor, most of scenes were realistic of issues faced when individuals who speak different languages attempt to communicate and engage in joint work. In organizations, the concept of language is central to the occurrence of organizing, language is what connects the various entities and enables for the flow of information and knowledge.
Language is what differentiates human species from others in our environment. Language is a medium of signification, i.e. language helps us use signs for expressing thoughts. Today, with the omnipresence of global and multinational corporations, I am always surprised by how little care is taken by senior executives in their use of languages. Most organizations commit blunders when communicating with their constituents who are in foreign locations. One example comes to mind, a senior and seasoned executive in the Middle East was giving a presentation in Chicago, Illinois. The Executive opened up his remarks with, “Good morning gentlemen” and then proceeded into his presentation. He obviously forgot to take a good look at the audience to realize that half of them were ladies. Obviously, he had turned off half of his audience and his message fell on deaf hears. Other common errors that occur when language is not properly accounted for have to do with faulty advertisements. Chevrolet naming its car “Chevy Nova” and trying to sell it in Latin America, where “no va” means “it doesn’t go”. Bacardi attempted to introduce a new fruity drink in the German market called “Pavian” to suggest French chic, however “Pavian” means “baboon” in German. Parker Pens translated the slogan for its ink, “Avoid Embarrassment- Use Quink” into Spanish as “Evite Embarazos-Use Quink” which means “Avoid Pregnancy-Use Quink”. In today’s world, where conducting business globally across borders is the norm, we must be cognizant on how we communicate with people from different cultures. Failure to do so will result in poor work practices, project failures, employee hostility, and poor sense of “organizing”.