vendredi, janvier 05, 2007

Resolutions, language and intercultural details

If the New Year is a time for resolutions, then I wish to achieve at least one: posting more regularly.

To do so, I need to let go of the “excellent writing” and “useful insight” matrix I box myself into so easily that even when I have something to say, or have read an interesting tidbit worth discussing, my fingers freeze up while my mind says “who’d be interested?”

This resolution can be applied to areas of life other than keeping this blog alive. No sooner had I made it that my resolve got sorely tested.

An American colleague of mine in the translation industry and her French husband are creating a management-oriented blog. She rang up and asked if I would be willing to do a podcast interview for them on some of the intercultural aspects of delivering oral presentations.

Of course, at first, I balked. Do you know anyone who likes to hear 30 seconds of his or her voice on an answering machine? And this is a 20-minute clip… Never mind that, as a trainer, my voice gets heard a lot: this would be taped for posterity. Gasp.

I finally agreed and we started to discuss their format, style, the types of presentations they had in mind and so on. I started to list some of the key do’s and don’ts, remembered some vignettes that illustrate critical cultural differences, when my colleague – with whom I chat in English – quips, “we want to make it ‘ludique’,” – in other words, fun, amusing, off-beat.

She said it in French.

“In which language do you plan to conduct this podcast?” I asked.

“Oh, in French. Didn’t I tell you? There is so much stuff out there for managers in English, and so little in French,” she replied.

The first thought that raced through my mind was what is the TONE of this podcast?

Will we be speaking in the 'vous' - more formal, professional, serious – or in the 'tu' – more relaxed, casual, intimate? What impact would/could that have on how the information contained in the podcast might be perceived by French listeners? Should we err on the side of the “no holds barred” style of some late night French TV talk shows (such as On ne peut pas plaire à tout le monde where the prevalent 'tu' is often accompanied by language that might not pass US censors!) or should we maintain a professional reserve and integrate the ‘ludique’ in other ways?

They hadn’t thought about that and the differences the use of ‘tu’ or ‘vous’ in such a context might make. They are going to ponder the question and get back to me.

Remember, in intercultural communications, the differences are often in the details…

Until next time,

Lokahi & Quill

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