Electronic Product Design

07/02/2012 – International language

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International conspiracy and what it means to you

International language

It’s very easy to think that anyone who does not speak your (primary) language is foreign. Conversely you might be confused or unable to work with someone who speaks a language that you do not understand.

There are at least two languages that are international: music and electronics. In both cases the words surrounding the subject vary according to national tongue but they are based on a visual description. It is this description that is common.

Exposing the “conspiracy”

In spite of this common language, there are times when things are not so clear. I can distinctly remember travelling with one of my clients to Japan and Korea. In this particular set up the Japanese either spoke some English or had translators. The situation in Korea was markedly different, with most of the “dialogue” conducted in hand gestures and sketches drawn on a white board.

On first appearances, the situation in Japan should have by far the easiest. However, the reality was starkly different. (I hasten to add that this was one group of engineers on one specific project. The Japanese people are generally very polite and English is widespread – much to the shame of those of us who barely speak one other language). The meeting in Korea, despite its obvious difficulties was conducted with a little humour and much nodding of heads of heads when the meaning was adequately conveyed.

The real difference was neither in the nationalities nor their mother tongue. The engineers in Japan had reason to dislike the content of the meeting. The co-operation was diminished as a result of that. The engineers in Korea had everything to gain, provided they could comprehend the task in hand – which they did.

What it means to you

The moral of the tale is that neither technical knowledge nor facility with other languages should be a barrier to understanding in the electronics world. If there is some kind of “problem” it is generally best to look at the motives and reasons rather than the technicalities.

This applies closer to home too. Even if you are working solely with teams who speak your primary language, there is another charade that can be played. Some call it a “smoke screen”. The vast array of technical vocabulary and acronyms are easily sprayed throughout a conversation making it almost unintelligible for those not proficient in the specifics of this sub-language. Yet if you think (depending on age!) of David Attenborough, Raymond Baxter, Brian Cox or Patrick Moore, they all handle massive or complex subjects in readily expressed terms.

You should expect the same facility of expression from your technical team, even if their wardrobe or TV persona is not as grand! (One of my meetings this week is primarily targeted at the “translation” of a problem after a smoke-screen from abroad.)

Posted by: Peter Hawkins on 07/02/12.

Image: savit keawtavee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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