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.

Sign replacement - geograph.org.uk - 1313161

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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