Tag Archives: Language

Speak In Music

I was had a chat over the weekend with a friend who can speak music. I don’t mean “sing” and that’s not some sort of weird linguistic screw up in my writing. Let me explain what I mean and why it’s important to you and your business.

Rama First Nation - Ojibwe Language Dictionary

(Photo credit: Robert Snache – Spirithands.net)

Think about many of the laughable marketing materials you’ve seen over the years. Generally they fail for a few reasons, one of which is an inability to speak the language of the target audience. I remember when I was younger laughing at companies trying to be “hip.” I still laugh at the messages targeted at really young people when it’s the parents making the buying decision. It’s an inability to speak the language, and it’s just as bad as running English language ads in a country where the native tongue is something else. Of course, there are the classic attempts to speak the native language and failing miserably (the Chevy Nova being marketed in Mexico with a name that translates to “doesn’t go” isn’t great for a car and is my personal favorite). So what do we do?

We try to speak music.  What I mean is that music is a universal languageBach, Mozart, Miles Davis, and others speak to us all – language isn’t an impediment.  Even music that is language-centric can convey a message and emotion – look at the success here of “Gangnam Style” and let me know if you need Korean to “get” the song.

That was the point of the conversation.  We all need to think in more of a universal language as businesspeople.  Sure, some of us are focused on specific segments, but the more “musically” we convey our message and conduct ourselves, the better our chances of success.  My friend was explaining a feeling to me and didn’t use words – just a link to a song.  I got it right away.  It’s the sort of different thinking all of us need if we’re to break through.

And the best part is you don’t even need to buy a dictionary!  Does that make sense?

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Trusting The Translator

If you’ve ever travelled to a country where your native language is not the main language spoken, you might have had a couple of the experiences I’m about to describe.

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I used to travel internationally on business to places where English is not the first language and even though my business counterparts spoke reasonably good English I always found it helpful to have a translator available.  Of course there’s always the temptation – one to which I succumbed a couple of times – to pick up a few key phrases in the other language and assume that you can get by.  Big mistake, as are most of the digital ways one can change languages.

It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling on business or for pleasure.  Having someone around who can interpret is a big advantage.  Unless, of course, they’re not trustworthy.  It is an absolute imperative that you be able to trust that the translator is giving you an accurate interpretation   In fact, I’ve been in situations where it was assumed I didn’t speak the local language and what was being said was something that would never have been said to me in English (that only happened as a tourist, fortunately).  A translator who hides what’s being said can be a disaster.

The same can be said about the fool who learns a few phrases and has no clue about their use.  Anyone who really speaks the language will see right through that or, even worse, they’ll take advantage of the fact that you clearly don’t understand what the words mean even though you can pronounce them well.

I’ve run into both of these situations domestically as well and so have you.  You might have needed a translator to interpret technical information into English so you can make a business decision.  Maybe you’ve needed to make a choice about how to build a site or an app.  Your IT people, your designers, your coders – they all speak a language you don’t, and if they give you a bad translation, you’re doomed.  The same is true of accountants, lawyers, and others.

Then there are those people who ask questions containing some “foreign” words”   – CPM, CTR, CPC, bounces  – or other terms.  They ask questions as if they’ll understand the answer  but the very nature of their question proves they don’t have a clue about the topic.  If you answer them with more jargon – foreign words – you’re just making the misunderstanding worse.  Translating it all back into English for them – without embarrassing them of course – is the right course of action.

If you can’t trust your translator, you’re going to have a rough trip, whether it’s overseas or right here at home as your do business.  Hai capito?

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The Meaning Behind The Words

If you’ve read the screed more than once or twice you know that in a past life I was an English teacher.  I’ve always loved words and so I read this post about 11 Words That Don’t Mean What They Sound Like with great interest.  Words such as “crapulous” and “nugatory” aren’t a part of my regular vocabulary although a couple of the words on the list are.  Whether you use them or not, there is a good business point to be made by them.

Some words with hwair (Ƕ, ), from Grammar of t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re expecting me to say “words matter,” you’re wrong.  It’s the meaning of the words that matter, which is something that the piece makes clear.  Sometimes we hear words and don’t understand what’s being said.  Oh sure, we think we do, but that’s where the issues arise.  It’s not even as simple as not understanding the definitions of the words as this article shows.  It’s getting the meaning along with the definition.

Part of that can be body language, which is why I’m a believer of in-person discussions whenever possible.  It’s easy in an age of instant communication to just send a quick email but email lacks nuance.  Part of it can be tone.  How many times has a significant other said “I’m fine” to you when their tone tells you they’re anything but fine?  That’s all part of meaning.

One thing I’ve learned from the dozens of lawyers with whom I’ve worked over the years is the need for precision in language.  Knowing the real meaning of every word can be critical to business success and can prevent misunderstandings down the road.  I’ll sometimes ask people with whom I’m discussing business issues to state them in another way.  It gets to the true meaning behind the words since words (to use one from the article) are considered fungible by many folks.  Often, they’re not.

Have you ever run into a situation where the words someone uses have meant something other than how you understood them?  Tell me.

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Learning The Language

A fascinating report came out at the end of last month from The Pew Internet and American Life folks. This one has to do with the impact of an “always on” connection on young people and whether that impact will be positive or negative. You can read the release and the report itself here and there was a good summary of the study done here.

These are really the key points:

…many of the young people growing up hyperconnected to each other and the mobile Web and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble, quick-acting multitaskers who will do well in key respects.

At the same time, these experts predicted that the impact of networked living on today’s young will drive them to thirst for instant gratification, settle for quick choices, and lack patience. A number of the survey respondents argued that it is vital to reform education and emphasize digital literacy. A notable number expressed concerns that trends are leading to a future in which most people are shallow consumers of information, and some mentioned George Orwell’s 1984 or expressed their fears of control by powerful interests in an age of entertaining distractions.

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time each day online and have for years.  There is no question it has an effect on one’s brain.  I notice how my thinking has changed – at times I feel more distracted because there are always a few other things I’m doing concurrently but I also notice that when I read offline I read the “above the fold” portion of articles (usually the lede and a few paragraphs) and then scan the rest – the mind gets restless.

My thought today is this.  Digital literacy has become something that young people learn as they do their native language.  Anyone under 21 has grown up using digital devices and their brains are wired to operate a connected environment.  Ever seen a three year old play with an iPad?  Kids are digital before they can read.  They also don’t seem to focus as well (coincidence that there is an epidemic of ADD?) and can grow impatient quickly.

That statement about the digital language is several implications.  First, we don’t think about where our native language comes from (other than those of us who study philology).  We just speak it. People know how to use the digital tools but have no clue how they operate (unless they’re engineers).  Sometimes I think we confuse speaking a language with studying one and treat people who do the former as if they’ve done the latter.  Second, when one reads articles about companies enhancing broadband wand WiFi availability in one area while others are abandoning those efforts in poorer areas, it makes me think about immigrants who can’t speak the language of a new country.  If you’re not speaking digital, pretty soon you’ll be treated as a different class.

Have a look at the study and tell me what you think (if you can focus long enough!).

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Straight Talk

There generally aren’t a lot of laughs available while reading the Sports Business Journal. On occasion there’s head-shaking; other times there’s amazement. Laughter? Not so much. Yesterday, however, I got a great laugh out of Terry Lefton’s column. Terry writes about sports marketing and is always a good read. His column entitled Time for some straight talk on marketing jargon – isn’t it? struck a topic that’s near and dear to me and makes a great point whether you’re in the sports business or not.

Every business has a vocabulary.  Doctors ask for forceps, not the “scissor-thingee”.  A short-order cook would respond to “two ruined with breath” and deliver 2 scrambled eggs with onions.  Obviously the language of the web – servers, routers, HTML, CSS, etc. is not widely understood outside of the digital world but makes communication possible within it.

That said, Terry does a great job of pointing out often the language that is used to provide clarity can also be used to obfuscate.  Whether it’s listening to a vendor pitch a product or to someone explaining why their strategy is a great idea, I’m always concerned when a lot of the language is the inbred vernacular that has neither real meaning nor for which there is a need.  I guess they’re just trying to establish their bona fides by using it, although I can rattle off legal language but it doesn’t make me a lawyer.

You must learn the language of business – that of your specific field as well as business in general.  However, learning how and when to use it is just as important as the vocabulary itself.  Otherwise, we end up with a situation like the one below, that Terry lays out far better than I can:

Even though the thicket of vernacular has become a pandemic problem, that doesn’t mean we’re ready to punt. After all, this could be a new benchmark. Still, optimization could be mission critical, since we’re a bit above our pay grade here.  Holistically speaking, if we can monetize this, it could be the best cross-platform paradigm since disintermediation.  Actually, it’s unclear that we have a clear line of sight on this, but ping me; we’ll calendar some time, ideate some scenarios, and hopefully move the needle. And we’ve gotten this far without even mentioning the obvious need for consumer-facing synergies.  So let’s add some bandwidth and let time be the variable; that’s the only way to ensure that this goes three-deep. At the end of the day, it is what it is.

So now that I’ve run that up the flagpole, are you saluting?

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A roll of punched tape

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When I was in high school, I learned BASIC programming.  We connected to a mainframe computer someplace by using a phone coupler and dialing in.  There was no monitor; every interaction with the computer was typed on a long sheet of paper.  Programs were written and submitted via punch-tape.  I know – ancient history.  But some of what I learned is applicable today and I want to discuss on bit of logic coders use all the time which has business implications (or might even be a best-practice): the “if-then” statement. Continue reading

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Speaking The Language

Enoki, Buna-shimeji, Bunapi-shimeji, king oyst...

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Given the number of times I come back from dining out and end up writing about it here, I’m thinking that maybe we should eat at home all the time. Many folks go out just for food; I seem to go out for food for thought.
In any event, we went to a local Chinese place where we’ve eaten many times. To us it’s very much like some of the best places we enjoy in Chinatown in NYC. The decor isn’t much but the food usually is. Getting the food, however, can be a challenge and it reminded me of another business point I’d like to share with you. Continue reading

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