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BRIDGING THE COMMUNICATION GAP

(Richard D. Lewis. When Cultures Collide: Managing successfully across cultures. - USA: Today's Librarian. - P. 94-114.)
    Use of language
   One of the factors leading to poor communication is often overlooked: the nationals of each country use their language and speech in a different way. Language is a tool of communication, delivering a message – but it is much more than that, it has strengths and weaknesses which project national character and even philosophy.
    French is a quick, exact, logical language and the French fence with it, cutting, thrusting and parrying, using it for advantage, expecting counter thrusts, retorts, repartee and indeed the odd touché against them. French is a good tool for arguing and proving one’s point. It is fair play for the French to manipulate their language, often at great speed, to bewilder and eventually corner their certainly, but they are not quick to attack with it . They will lean heavily on understatement and reservation; they will concede points to their opponent early on to take the steam out of the argument, but their tone implies that even so, right is on their side. They know how to be vague in order to maintain politeness or avoid confrontation, and they are adept at waffling when they wish to procrastinate or cloud an issue. (It is impossible to waffle in French, as each word has a precise meaning.) The English will use a quit tone to score points, always attempting to remain low key. Scots or the Northern English may emphasise their accent in order to come across as genuine, sincere or warm-hearted, while the Southern English  may use certain accents to indicate an influential background, a particular school, or good breeding.
    Spaniards and Italians regard their languages as instruments of eloquence and they will go up and down the scale at will, pulling out every stop if need be, to achieve greater expressiveness. To convey their ideas fully they will ransack an extensive vocabulary, use their hands, arms and facial expressions and make maximum use of pitch and tone. They are not necessarily being dramatic or overemotional. They want you to know how they feel. They will appeal, directly and strongly, to your good sense, warm heart or generosity if they want something from you, and often you have to decide there and then whether to say yes or no.
    Germans, like the French, rely to a large extent on logic, but tend to amass more evidence and labour their points more than either the British or the French. The French, having delivered their thrust, are quite prepared to be parried and then have their defence pierced by a superior counter thrust. Germans are not; they come in with heavier armour and have usually thought through the counter arguments. Often the best way to deal with a German is to find common ground and emphasise solidarity and reliability in cooperation. The splendid German language is heavy, cumbersome, logical, disciplined and has such momentum that it is invincible in any head-on collision with another language. But that momentum can be deflected by a sensitive negotiator and all parties can benefit.
    Scandinavians are something else. In the long dark nights they have thought about matters well in advance and they list all the ‘pros and cons’ before giving you their conclusion, which they will justify. They will not abandon their decision easily for they believe they have proved their case. Finns are friendlier and more reticent, but with the same modern equal-footing approach. The Finnish language is much more eloquent and flowery than Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, but the bottom line is still drily factual, succinct and well thought out. You can use any kind of humour with a Finn, linguistic or otherwise. A Dane will go along with you for a while, especially if the joke is at the expense of the Swedes.  Swedes will accept your humour if it doesn’t affect their profit margin. Never tell jokes about Norway to Norwegians. They don’t understand them.
    American speech is quick, mobile and opportunistic, reflecting the speed and agility of the young USA. The wisecrack is basic to their discourse. American humour excels in quips, barbed retorts and repartee – short, sharp, smart-alec shafts, typical of the dog-eat-dog society of early America, where the old hands had all the clichés and the answers, and newly arrived immigrants had to learn to defend themselves quickly.
    Exaggeration and hyperbole are at the bottom of most American expressions, contrasting sharply with the understated nature of the British. The American language has never recovered from the exigencies of this period. The ordinary man’s speech tends to be ‘tough talk’, rather reminiscent of cowboy parlance or Chicago gangland speech of the 1920s. The nation’s obsession with show business and the pervasive influence of Hollywood have accentuated and, to some extent, perpetuated this trend.
    The Japanese use language in a completely different way from the rest of us. What is actually said has no meaning or significance whatsoever. Japanese use their language as a tool of communication, but the words and sentences themselves give no indication of what they are saying. What they want and how they feel are indicated by the way they address their conversation partner. Smiles, pauses, sighs, grunts, nods and eye movements convey everything. The Japanese leave their fellow Japanese knowing perfectly well what has been agreed, no matter what was said. Foreigners leave the Japanese with a completely different idea. Usually they think that every thing has gone swimmingly, as the Japanese would never offend them by saying anything negative or unpleasant.
    In English, French and a good number of languages, people often aspire to elegantly polite discourse in order to show respect to their interlocutor. This process is carried on to a much greater degree in Japanese, where standards of politeness are much higher than in the USA or Europe. On all ceremonial occasions, and these may include formal business meetings, a whole sequence of expressions is used which bears little or no relation to the actual sentiments of the individuals present. The language is instead aimed at conveying the long-term relationships which are envisaged and the depth of expectation that each participant has.
    When these Japanese thoughts are translated , other nationalities tend to look at the content rather than the mood. Consequently, all they hear is platitudes, or even more suspicious, flattery. There is no doubt that most Japanese businessmen in England and the US are often successful at conveying the idea that they are very agreeable people to deal with. Later, toughness in negotiating appears and seems to contradict the early pleasantries. When at each meeting hosted by the Japanese they go through the ritual of thanking the visitors for giving up their valuable time and for suffering the prevailing weather conditions, Anglo-Saxons in particular feel uncomfortable about the sincerity of their hosts. The Japanese, however, are simply being courteous and caring.
    Japanese or English may distrust Italians because they wave their hands about, or Spaniards because they sound emotional or prone to exaggeration. The French may appear offensive because of their directness or frequent use of cynicism. No one may really know what Japanese or Finns were thinking or what they actually said, if they said anything at all. Germans may take the English too literally and completely miss nuances of humour, understatement or irony. Northern peoples may simply consider that Latins speak too fast to be relied on. Languages are indeed spoken at different speeds. Hawaiian and some Polynesian languages barely cover 100 syllables per minute, while English has been measured at 200, German at 250, Japanese at 310 and French at 350 syllables per minute.

 
 
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