A bit long story about language barrier.

So I worked at an Asia company. The company decided to close a Northern Europe site which was considered to have low productivity. I was sent to that site to learn and take their job back to HQ.

One day when I was there, we got an email from a developer in HQ, requesting feature changes in the software maintained by the Northern Europe site. I heard the local developers were discussing about the email in their language. I don't speak their language but I could feel that they were confusing. So I walked to them and ask if I could help. They show me the email written in English by the Asian developer in HQ. And I was surprised that even I (who speaks the same native language with HQ dev) couldn't fully understand what the mail wanted to express. So I called back to HQ and talked to the developer directly, in our native language.

Turns out, he actually tried to say a completely different thing with that was written in the email.

Until that moment, I finally know why the site was considered to have low productivity. The men in HQ just couldn't describe the requirements correctly. And sure you got false result when you give wrong requirements statements.

I was so angry and felt sorry about the developers in that closing site. They were far more talented and experienced than most my colleagues in HQ. But they were laid off only because communication errors in HQ developers.

  • 13
    I can relate to that. I've had a lot of challenges with our Asian contractors due to language. I actually traveled to China for a 3 hour meeting from Scandinavia, just to return the same day - it was worth it with a translator with me. Another issue we had was that they usually answered "yes" even if they didn't understand.

    Management will probably never really take it in. Our job to flag it up the pole
  • 11
    @viking8 as a norwegian, I know how you feel. Stuff that took me an hour tops before, can take upwards of 2 weeks and 30 emails with 5 different managers in India.
  • 8
    That sounds immensely frustrating. I wonder how you found prevent something like this in the future. A 'linguistic precision meter ', perhaps?
  • 0
    @viking8 At least your company is willing to pay for your business travel(they are, right?). It's very tired for you though.

    I've heard from the managers in closing site says that they ask for business travels for years but rarely be accepted.
  • 3
    @starless How do we prevent this? Well we close all foreign sites and take their jobs back to HQ like what I was doing :P. Just kidding.

    We have other Scandinavia sites still running. My team is now deeply involving in the work related to them. So besides technical work, I also try to be a "translator" to make sure they are on the same track. I also try to explain to both side about why they may mis-interprete your mail and how to improve your sentences to be more accurate.

    In fact, later I found that the problem is not really about language skills. It's more about if you can do logical thinking, and if you are considering others while expressing yourselves.
  • 1
    @viking8 I've had the same problem ever since I came to Philippines. Unless you know the native language, you will probably spend hours trying to explain the project to them.

    And yes seems to be a common reply here too
  • 0
    @yusijs the confusuion goes to new depths when they say 'Yes' but mean no internally but at the same time they are waving their head side to side in weird figure 8 formation.

    : \
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