Thursday 18 October 2012

Language barrier

Working cross culturally to build communications is not easy in missions, but add language difficulties into the mix and it becomes a whole extra hurdle to overcome. Even English language speakers have difficulty understanding each other sometimes and it can lead to embarrassing confusion. South African English has its own nuances that differ from the British, whether it's the term robot meaning traffic light, or the term just now meaning some point in the future, being an English speaker doesn't always mean you'll be fully understood, or fully understand what is being communicated. Subtle differences in the use of the words  can lead to embarrassing mis-communication among speakers of the same language.

Within the mission world, there are three languages that dominate sub-Saharan Africa: English, French and Portuguese. Sadly, there isn't a huge cross-over between these three within the continent and a lot of the connections and relationships are limited to historic links to former colonies or language family countries. Websites (including AfriCom's at the moment), are seldom produced in multiple languages and many of us lack the skills and abilities to field queries in multiple languages.

Yet, right now, we feel as a team led to build connections with Francophone Africa, whilst maintaining our relationship with Portuguese speaking countries too. We deliberately produce Djembe (our flagship magazine) in three languages to bring a bit of cross polination, but it's not enough, really.

I'm currently faced with this conundrum: do I look to staff my weaknesses and recruit French and Portuguese speaking staff, or do I look to learn these languages myself? Or both?

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