Talk about it

Subject: Talk about it
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 7 Dec 2007 14:16:11 -0500

This'd be a Friday thing... Hit [Next] if you're on a deadline.

Save money. Design products for Engineers.


It wasn't so long ago that China was talked about as "the sleeping giant", and just wait till they start flexing their muscles - we'll all have to learn Chinese.

Well, there's plenty of economic and political muscle being flexed world-wide (China is now the proud owner of the single highest-valued company in the world), and investors (and potential) are lining up in droves to invest in China, and yet I witnessed a telling little episode in our lunchroom today.

Two of our software engineers were conversing, one a tall, lanky Chinese-Canadian immigrant, the other a short, stocky Chinese-Canadian immigrant. Both have thick accents and both still struggle a bit for full expression in English... but they were talking English to each other. They were not using English in deference to any third party; they'd been alone in the room until I briefly passed through. They weren't talking about a technical topic. They weren't practicing on each other. They were using English because they didn't have a suitable common dialect between them from the old country.


I wonder if the same would have been true if they were not technical guys. Would a butcher from a southwest province and a heavy-equipment operator from a northeast province have a common tongue (even if rusty and rarely used) from within the borders of China, or would they be stuck (or even perhaps groping for English expressions)?

This line of thought has been running through my head because I've been working for this North American company for nearly ten years and we're only just starting to seek quotes to translate our docs. Our audience is technical people, not end-user consumers. They've always been able to learn and use our stuff, no matter the country where their employers were located, even though the interfaces and the docs have always been English-only. We wouldn't be looking to translate now if we weren't trying to sell to certain foreign government organizations (whose engineers and techs also probably speak and read English, but for political reasons the people signing the purchase orders must insist on translation).

Having lived and worked (and spoken) in both French and English parts of my own country, I'm sensitive to the backlash against arrogance from English speakers assuming that everybody should cater to us/them. So it was doubly amusing that a couple of guys who grew up in China found it more comfortable and efficient to communicate with each other in this foreign language.

Hmm. I wonder what happens when certain French, German and Japanese customers encounter a situation that's not covered in the translation of my docs, and call Customer Support... and are greeted in English or Hindi only? :-)


(ready to shop for two full sets of ski gear so the Missus and I can ski on a Québecois ski-hill this weekend)

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