Thursday, 8 August 2013

Mind the gap!

I love languages. I studied three at school - French, German and Latin - and completed a short course of evening classes in Spanish a few years back.  Languages appeal to me because I regard lessons as more than just learning to express myself  but also as a way of understanding other nationalities - particularly the Germans.  And, of course, if you understand how people click, you can make a connection with them - and, if you are in business, the marketing and selling process to a foreign audience becomes so much easier.

So why do I think speaking a foreign language helps?  Well, first of all, you gain easier access and develop a better understanding of a nation's culture.  You may have seen The Lives of Others, a film about Stasi surveillance on East German citizens during the cold war.   The film had a cinema and DVD release in the UK, with English subtitles.  It gave the British a fascinating, if rather depressing, insight into life in East Germany.  However, there have also been other equally interesting releases - for instance, Sonnenallee and Kleinruppin forever - that give a different viewpoint.  Both paint a more nostalgic picture, although acknowledging the political and social restrictions of the time, and tap into the whole genre of Ostalgie - the nostalgia for certain aspects of life in East Germany that swept through former east Germans after reunification.

By its very nature, a language shapes the way people think and take in information.  As a bit of a frivolous example, take an announcement from the underground system in Berlin "Bitte beachten Sie beim Aussteigen die L├╝cke zwischen Zug und Bahnsteigkante" which translates as "Please mind the gap between train and platform edge when alighting".  The equivalent in London is the much shorter "Mind the gap".  The German phrase is more comprehensive, very precise and less prone to being misunderstood. Does that sound like some of the Germans you know?  By knowing the language, you get to know how people think and can predict how they will react to marketing messages and communications.  You get into their minds - isn't that what every marketeer dreams of?

So if you don't know the language, there's a gap in your knowledge.  Do you agree?  How has a language helped you in the business? Leave a comment and let me know.

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