Even the French, with their ever so charming language, had to admit it; nowadays, without minimal English knowledge, no great achievements in international business can be accomplished. So what happens when such a limitation exists? Generally, it will still be tried to build a business relationship with a vocabulary of about 1.500 words, which in my view however is meant to fail in the long run.
I only need to think of the different language versions of my blog posts to see that the Spanish text is twice as long as the English one. Not to mention my jokes: the Brits just don’t understand them, the Germans don’t laugh and the French put on a compassionate smile. Basically the same happens at talks at international meetings: Germans wish for ten-point structured presentation whereas the Brits ask for a good-looking and witty one.
Allow me to go back to the 1.500-word English vocabulary, which some call “globish”. This expression is mostly used by international managers, who do not lack self-confidence as they know well that their counterpart share the same problem. This approach has certainly a lot to offer, yet it reaches its limits where the language serves to convey different cultures.
Let me tell you about a recent incident which, I believe, illustrates well the point of this post: a fire alarm at a factory in northern Spain with approximately 600 workers, 400 Spaniards and 200 Rumanians. I would think, a rather unequivocal message but was happens? Everyone leaves the factory as quickly as possible. The Spaniards gather that it is a fire alarm and go to the coffee machines in the recreation room. As for the Rumanians, they set themselves in military order, standing in lines on the parking lot thumbs along the trouser seams (!), and wait patiently for further notice. So much on the complexity of communication in different cultures.
In my view, the next level after globish is GLOCALESE, which means that top management must have lived a couple of years abroad in order to understand what it means to operate in another market and should have perfect command of English. Then, you quickly ought to be able to speak Glocalese, which for me means: to be aware of the specificities of each individual market, have good English knowledge as well as the capacity to surround yourself with first- class people in the target country.
Confession: I would have been completely lost in Rumania without my Rumanian manager.