. . . . I sure don’t but I had interesting experiment last semester communicating in a language I don’t know the first thing about! To clarify, I am talking about ENGL-712 Communicating in Multilingual Environments. As part of the final project for the class, we had to find a foreign language site and use Google Translate to try and not just write a post or comment on the site, but get actual responses back from the other users. I chose a French site thinking that since two kids are learning French, they might be able to help me out if I got in a bind. Wishful thinking that was, but it was still a fascinating experiment. This was just a small part of a semester long class in understanding how a company that has international clients that don’t speak English as their primary language, communicates with these clients.
I ended up enjoying this class so much that when I took ENGL-637 this summer, I focused on a small local company that had found themselves becoming an International company without really planning on it. They are a manufacturing company and they have quite a few instruction manuals that they are in the process of updating. I went in intent on finding out how they handle (or take into consideration) their international clients as they are updating the manuals. Do they translate them? Do they do any adjusting for translation on the other end? What special things do they need to take into consideration as they write manuals with non-native English speakers as their end users? The answer I found out pretty quickly was – NOTHING. They found translating to be cost prohibitive (which it is even for large companies) and since they are selling their machinery to a middle man – a distributor – they seem to be legally covered safety-wise without needing to translate the documents. I also found their attitude to be similar to Thatcher’s (2010) comment:
“Unfortunately, this kind of ethnocentrism—assuming that another culture will simply use digital media the same way as your own—is actually quite common in much U.S. research and theory, a point I discuss more thoroughly elsewhere (Thatcher, 2005).” (p. 170)
When I asked more questions about their lack of translation, the comment was, (I am paraphrasing here) “Oh we don’t need to worry about it, Everyone we deal with speaks English really well”. I was pretty shocked! Interestingly enough, when I posed a similar question to my husband, whose company is also International, he said almost the exact same thing. When I asked my husband about translating legal documents, he said they have the plant in that location hire a translator to do that. Similarly, the company I worked with this summer relies on the end user to do all translating. When I asked my husband how they know the document (in his case usually contracts) says what they want it to say, he kind of stared at me with a blank face. When I pointed out to the summer company that their distributors may be able to speak English but (a) it is probably British English (and there is a difference) and (b) just because they can speak it doesn’t mean they can read it well enough to put machinery together,
they stared at me with blank faces (I love stumping people with an attitude!). In both cases, they just don’t know what they don’t know. The company from ENGL-637 is just now venturing into putting all of their documents online in digital format with the intent of eventually having it be an interactive online-help system. If their digital literacy is anything like their (albeit, currently being upgraded) manual-writing-system literacy where international clients are concerned, they will need more help than they realize. Digital literacy is still a new and expanding field even in our own country, much less understanding how other countries will use this form of communication. Unfortunately, our embarrassing ethnocentric attitude may get in the way of ever being completely digitally literate where foreign clients are concerned.