Thursday, October 14, 2010

Office talk

I work in a plant but because I'm not an engineer I rarely get to go inside. Instead, I spend my time in the main office: an open space packed with engineers, designers, HR and Finance people, Purchasing and the likes. And my desk is near the printer so I get to see half the open space when they come to collect their documents.

We have here, working together Czehs, Slovaks, many French and me. The common working language for all is English and engineering. And although from very different backgrounds we all use certain phrases and words that are very specific not just to the industry but as well to the company. You have your QRQC, FTA, PPAP that are so specific for the entire automotive industry that they are the basis of ISO TS 16494. And then you throw around VPS, V5000, SQM, VRF and you are a real member of one of the biggest players on the market.

Acronyms. They are the founding stone of our work and everyone throws them around easily. But does everyone know what is behind them? It's not sure. Mostly these are procedures, names of documents to fill, milestones to achieve. If someone is not concerned by more than one phase of the project, he or she will most likely not be familiar with all the terms. I don't think everyone knows what all the letters stand for, but most know the document they refer to. I'm not an engineer but I try to know the name behind the abbreviation. Trust me, it's hard to make an engineer out of an economist.

The other language of this Babylon is the working language, which is of course English. You can hear different accents, and different specific words used by speakers from different linguistic backgrounds. The French are of course the easiest to spot, while Czechs and Slovaks speaking English have a similar accent.

All this intermixing of languages and cultures rubs off on one another. For example I hear a lot of specific expressions or words that come from French (similar structure), that logically should be mistakes made by French speakers, but that are used by the others as well. For example the plural of "month" is "months" but since "th" is difficult to pronounce in French, the singular becomes "monts" thus the plural becomes "montses". And this is being used indiscriminately by French and non French.

In other cases, French expressions are translated literally into English. Such is the case of "Merci de + verbe" which becomes " Thank you to+ verb". When wanting to ask someone to do something, in English, please use : "Please write an email to X. Thank you" and NOT "Thank you to write an email to X". I don't think the expression " to give the TOP" exists in English, maybe it does, but for me it's very French, because it comes from French. False friends are widely used such as "actually" used instead of "currently". I cannot blame this one on the French: Czechs, Slovaks and even Chinese make the same mistake. Past tenses : "I didn't know" becomes "I didn't knew", this is WRONG. I don't know enough Czech to give examples related to this language but I can name some typical things, like the tendency to pronounce every letter, especially stressing the last letters.

School was a long time ago for all of us and I think that for many, the language learned in school is not enough to function in such an environment. Working closely with other people means that inadvertently you take some of the expressions used by the others. Working all day in a different language than your own is very difficult, I can tell you this for sure. Avoiding misunderstandings is hard enough without grammar mistakes and on top of that you have a specific vocabulary. Somehow the specific English and the abbreviations become part of the company's culture and history so that a newcomer will eventually have to get used to this and then things become easier.

As for me, I don't judge but maybe I pay a little too much attention, I admit.. I just like to notice and understand where these come from. as I am being influenced by the way people talk around me; I am being told I'm getting a nice French accent (and I was aiming for Scottish, darn) and sometimes I wonder if what I want to say is really correct English.


  1. Nice work, fata :P
    I can say that I had a similar situation 2 days ago...when I used "pentru a aplica la aceasta bursa"(that in English must sound like "for applying to this scholarship") Romanian "a aplica" it doesn't exist with the same meaning like in English…but we used the English terms so much that we even realize that is totally WRONG...

    And 1 week ago I meet some ppl from the France Embassy and they used "feedback" because they didn't know if in French there is a word that means the same thing…and HELLOOO , there is one expression : “avoir le retour” …

    sorry for my grammar mistakes!!!


  2. Mie imi aduce aminte de o carte in care citeam despre un indonezian simpatic care tot ce invatase sa spuna in engleza era 'Congratulations to meet you'. Dar astea sunt dragute, ma fac sa rad.
    Re acronime-sunt the way forward. Asta a fost primul avertisment cand m-am angajat aici si cel mai tare e cand iti iei pana la urma inima in dinti chiar si dupa doua luni sa intrebi ce inseamna CRM, GBS, etc. si NIMENI nu stie-da, nici chiar ei managerii sau alte trepte ierarhice de la ei in sus. Toti au o idee, dar au uitat ce inseamna exact. Epic.


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