Matt Nuccio. "English to English."
Toy & Family Entertainment, June 2011
Some time ago I was alone at a factory somewhere on the edges of Guangzhou province in China. I was working with the factory's engineer trying to resolve some minor problems that seemed to be escalating into big problems. I had spent the previous weeks going back and forth with diagrams and e-mails. Nothing was working. Too much was getting lost in translation. Despite the language barrier, we managed to communicate with very little talking and a lot of pointing. Within a few hours the problems were resolved and I was ready to head back to my hotel.
I was packing my samples and sketchbook when the engineer was called out of the room. He returned a few minutes later with two well-dressed Japanese men and the factory owner. Apparently they too were having communication issues. The engineer asked me if I could please help them. The Japanese did not speak any Mandarin. The factory owner did not speak any Japanese or English. The engineer only spoke a little English. They were even having trouble translating English to English. The factory owner spoke to the engineer and he translated it with a heavy Mandarin accent. "We no problem you see?". I looked at the Japanese men and could see instantly that they did not understand what he said, so I turned to the engineer, and translated, "What is the problem?" They nodded their heads and replied with their Japanese accents "dis notta acceptable arm movement, it need to move correctly for sample". The engineer looked at me so I picked up the action figure off the table pointed to the problem and said "The arm needs to be fixed". To which he replied "Because the big sleeve problem. Sample only. Not right to work today. Wrong flavor material. Fine in production". I picked up the sample and turned to the Japanese men and said "This is only a clay sample. It will be corrected in ABS plastic in the production." This went on and on over several points until everything finally resolved.
Afterwards I realized that I had always thought that I was clear and precise in my direction... but I probably wasn't as clear I thought I was. The Roman philosopher and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero once said "If I had more time, I would write a short letter." This couldn't be more true than when dealing in international business. It's no wonder that the Roman Empire was able to be so vast. They understood the importance of simple, precise communication.