More on language and cultural difference

Last week I shared a sentence that I’d read in an email at work from one of our Chinese team members.  The sentence was : “Sorry about my misunderstand cause this idea so delay.”   A group of us in the US were discussing the idea referred to in the previous sentence.  One of our US architects had been attempting to explain a new approach to calculating whether changes had been made to some objects in a database to the Chinese DBA.  Our goal was to improve performance of the system – if the calculations can be done faster, the user doesn’t have to wait so long staring at a web page with a little gadget that says, “Processing…” that they want to shoot themselves.  In our lunchtime discussion, the US architect explained how difficult it was to get his point across to the Chinese DBA. He said, “Until it make sense to his head, three days he argued on this!”

This stuff just fascinates me.  We’re all trying to use English to communicate, which is clearly harder on some than others, but we’re so far apart sometimes.  I can’t imagine being in the shoes of some of our Chinese team members that know little to no English.  My personal counterpart speaks English well, for the most part, so we have few challenges directly related to language.  The challenges I experience are more around my learning about the cultural norms that matter to them in communication.  A new person that joined our team in the US, though, was describing a recent technical conference call he had with the US Architect and some of the China team.  The goal of the call was for the Chinese team to do a code walk-through with our US Architect and our new DBA.  On the call, the US Architect was the one that was largely explaining what the code did, which really confused the new DBA.  He stopped at one point, and asked the US Architect – “Shouldn’t the guy in China be telling us what the code does?  Why are you doing it?  I thought we needed this call because you didn’t know the code that well.”  What was happening was our US Architect was speaking to the Chinese team – one of them could understand spoken English fairly well, and he was translating for the rest of the group, then responding back to our Architect, who probably had to do some translation of his own before he could regurgitate it for the new US DBA.

I don’t necessarily have a point in recounting all this – but the subject itself is getting interesting enough that I almost feel like starting a separate blog that just talks about these issues.  I really like the juxtaposition of practical challenges and humor that comes with this stuff!

The China team is coming online right now, as this is their Monday morning.  I had sent a bunch of emails on Friday, and I’m starting to get responses to them now.  My counterpart over there just replied to an email I sent him telling him that something we wanted them to do today was cancelled.  He replied, “Roger.”  I wonder where he picked up that term.