"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart." —Nelson Mandela
In our business, communication can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Communicating issues of safety, animal health and welfare, operating procedures, employee salaries, etc., are important roles of a manager.
Getting your point across to someone in your own language can be difficult, but doing it in a language you don’t understand can be impossible.
Technology is narrowing the communication gap between people of different cultures, and there are many mobile tools available to help. Be cautious, however, because machine translation is imperfect and has a hard time understanding context. Words like "left" have many different meanings, and digital translators will often choose the wrong form.
En Espanol, Links to language translation apps, Extended web version
Google Translate is my language translator of choice. With it, you can speak or type sentences in English and it will translate them in your choice of 70 languages. Google has done a great job of making very advanced translation features simple to use.
The mobile app will translate your conversation on the fly in both text and speech. I have used this on many occasions while talking to employees. Since my Spanish is pretty weak, asking them to speak slowly into my phone gives me a very good idea of what they are trying to say.
It translates SMS (text) messages, which gives me an opportunity to send instructions to employees in their own language. You can also take a picture of a package, sign or anything with print on it, and the app will recognize the words and convert them to your native language.
If being dependent on a machine isn’t your thing, why not learn a language yourself? Duolingo is a free language-learning program, similar to Rosetta Stone. The app is available on most devices and the web.
After creating a free account, choose a language (currently Spanish, French, German, Italian or Portuguese, with more on the way.) The Duolingo app creates a "skill tree." Each skill is a short quiz in the form of a game. Each game gives you three hearts; each time you make a mistake, you lose a heart. Lose three hearts and the game is over; then you must restart that skill.
Completing one skill unlocks other skills, which allows you to progress from basic words through various verb tenses and abstract ideas. Each skill uses several different associative methods and repetition to reinforce the language.
You can challenge your Facebook friends to Duolingo competitions and keep track of each other’s progress. You can achieve awards, medals and experience points as you play. The competitive nature of the program makes it fun and keeps you motivated to learn. Feel free to challenge me on Facebook if you need a partner.
If you have documents you need translated, Duolingo will do that for you for free, as well. All you need to do is upload a document that you own, and the Duolingo language learners will translate it for practice.
If you have commercial documents to translate, such as employee handbooks, you can pay a fee through Duolingo or a large list of other online services. Maybe it’s time to get those standard operating procedures into the language of your employees, right?
Learning a language may seem difficult, but like Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it’s done."
- February 2014