In Spanish, there is a joke that, when translated into English, goes like this:
What is the most patient fruit?
A fruit that’s a pear.
Now someone who speaks Spanish would understand this, as the words for “to wait” (espera) and “is a pear” (es pera) sound the same. But that Spanish speaker could certainly be forgiven for not busting out laughing at a popsicle stick-grade pun.
Anyone who has dealt with global IT deployments knows firsthand the stress that a language barrier can create. Strategy and execution require a delicate act of getting everyone on the same page followed by continuous communication through the outcome’s delivery. Involving multiple parties who each have different native language complicates communication and compounds the potential for avoidable errors.
Overcoming language barriers is an inherent part of international business, whether you’re conducting strategy meetings with your global partners or handling job site logistics for an international IT project.
With a little effort and understanding and by following these five tips, English speakers can prevent miscommunication and the tension that can arise from it.
1. Use simplified English
The first thing English speakers traveling abroad should learn is to practice self-awareness when speaking in their native tongue to those who are less experienced. Don’t just speak louder. Speak clearly, slowly, and simply, avoiding the jargon, culturally-specific analogies, and slang we constantly employ when talking to other native speakers.
Also, it bears mentioning, always be respectful in your tone. It’s easy to come across as condescending even though you intend not to be. Be apologetic when you have to repeat yourself or clarify statements and be willing to find a different way to communicate if having a dialogue in English isn’t productive.
2. Leverage technology
Of all people, IT professionals should know well the incredible array of technology available to make our lives easier. Between mobile apps that can quickly translate a spoken phrase to software for translating individual words or whole paragraphs, there are plenty of tools for bridging a gap between two languages.
Google Translate certainly won’t cut it when
you’re conducting multilingual meetings about important strategy, goals, or expectations.
Also, consider finding third parties to help translate your knowledge base materials to another language for when your organization’s IT strategy is establishing itself in a new global market. Better still, leverage the talent base of your partners for handling global IT deployments. They may have the tools or people to help make your training material, statements of work and documentation digestible for any language.
3. Invest in good translators
Google Translate certainly won’t cut it when you’re conducting multilingual meetings about important strategy, goals, or expectations. In those settings, clarity is of the utmost importance. Enlist the help of someone who is fluently bilingual to make the most of your international dealings. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have them on staff, or your global partners have the talent to lend. Either way, using translators helps foster trust and promote transparency.
Both for that reason and the need to translate written material for contingent workers and partners in other countries, consider hiring linguistic specialists or choosing a field services partner who has them. Ideally, you can dispatch these folks to your international IT deployments to help with logistics and managing local contingent workers as well.
4. Be willing to learn
When you commit to handling global IT deployments, the idea is to establish your organization’s presence there for the foreseeable future. And despite the viewpoint that English is the lingua franca of international business, that doesn’t mean every international enterprise, organization or contingent worker is going to be able to meet you halfway on speaking English.
Always do your homework on the cultural and linguistic preferences of your global partners and customers and learn what you can do to bridge the language barrier. Pick up basic, essential phrases of their preferred language (especially in countries with multiple national tongues) and pay attention to local customs and preferences to avoid accidentally offending someone or taking offense at something that is simply a difference in culture. Keep an open mind and absorb information whenever possible.
5. Be patient
Differences in language, culture and attitudes toward business are prevalent in any international dealing. Even if you invest in translation solutions or start taking Rosetta Stone courses, there are bound to be moments of confusion or miscommunication. Understand that any stress you feel from this disconnect will be felt equally by those on the other side of the language barrier. Take a breath and remember to practice some empathy in these situations, then try to find ways to avoid it in the future.
Keep learning and looking for visual ways to communicate (charts and numbers tend to be less susceptible to linguistic differences). Research what corporations in different global markets value from IT deployments and how they perceive a managed outcome. Find the commonalities that you and your international partners have, despite your differences. Keep learning and communicating until you feel confident that everyone is on the same page and aiming for the same goals.
Language barriers in international IT projects and field services are a consistent difficulty, but with a little work, a good dose of patience and an open mind, you can bridge them effectively. In the end, everyone wants the same thing in any language: Successful deployments and happy customers. For the stresses that multilingual IT collaboration can create, the rewards of a solid global partnership make it worthwhile.
To learn how Kinettix and our vast network of partners can help you overcome language barriers in your next global IT deployment, schedule a consultation.