19 Apr How to Avoid Awkward Moments in Global Communications
Good translators are well worth their price for important multi-lingual communications, but for everyday interactions with a multi-national team you can remove confusion at the source by making your global communications globally understandable.
I recently translated English into English for a Mexican retail sales trainer as a result of a colourful email from one of our Irish colleagues that contained language that just didn’t work in Spanish. I got the same slightly embarrassed feeling I’ve had when trying to explain a joke that fell flat – if they didn’t get it the first time, explanations don’t really help much.
A good translator would have avoided this awkward situation, but so would an awareness of the 3 common complications in writing for global communications:
1. Acronynms – Clever acronyms with double meanings just don’t translate, and even utilitarian acronyms sometimes have unintended consequences. SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) don’t seem quite as smart when they are eSpecífico, Mensurable, Alcanzable, Realista, and con límite de Tiempo. Although a good translator can often keep the acronym intact, it most likely won’t have a secondary meaning in the new language.Except when it does. Our acronym for Master Sales Trainer (MST) turns out to be French for “Maladie Sexuellement Transmissible”. In other words we almost told the Moroccan retail sales staff to expect a visit from venereal diseases
2. Metaphors – Cultural implications often render apt business metaphors irrelevant in other languages: driving things home, drilling down on things, putting things on the back burner, passing the buck. Besides confounding translators, there sometimes just isn’t a good comparable expression in the second language.I recently found out that “looking forward” to something is very awkward to translate. We use it in English to express “anticipation with eagerness or pleasure”, but anyone would look at you strangely if you said “I anticipate with eagerness our next meeting” instead of “Looking forward to it”.
3. Sports analogies – Who doesn’t love referencing sports in corporate communications? Nobody. But if your audience is from a different country, it is likely that they have different sports than you do…except if its soccer which is huge everywhere…except in the U.S. See what I mean? Even the best sports analogies might not make it in a global communication.
With a natural emphasis on teamwork and the achievement of objectives, it seems like a slam dunk an easy win to reference sports terminology in corporate environments, but if you want to score points globally, stick with generic concepts.