De Culturis

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Cross-Cultural Communication skills is a relatively new term, referring to the ability to recognize cultural differences and similarities when dealing with someone from another culture and ability to recognize features of own behavior which are affected by culture.



The test of the cross-cultural marriage

I live in a “cross-cultural” relationship: we both were born outside of Canada, we met here and as lingua franca we speak English at home although none of us is a native English-speaker. You could call it an intercultural marriage or a multilingual marriage — doesn’t matter. The point is that you need to express your most intimate feelings and thoughts in a second (third, fourth) langauge. Most of the time we manage it quite well.

We both have some background in the main topic of this blog — cross-cultural communication (CCC). In a way, we could even say that we got together thanks to this specific topic: she was giving a lecture as a doctor for some health care providers and because it was related to issues dealing with patients from a different cultural background… somehow I ended up being a “guest speaker” in the middle of her lecture. Then we started to work together on a new, more focused seminar — and the rest is history.

Even if we don’t communicate perfectly all the time, we have the ability and the resources to review our mistakes, to learn from them and, eventually, share our experiences. Yes, we do very well in this CCC department. Until…

… well, until something unexpected happens. As a breast cancer diagnosis. Suddenly our life and especially her life is overwhelmed by the elementary human instinct: the fear of death. No matter how good the survival chances are, you have to live with this sinister shadow above you. The usual daily chit-chat is replaced with dialogues dictated by fear, anxiety, helplessness, frustration, hope and scare. The ultimate test for your cross-cultural communication skills: you need to express your most basic instincts and thoughts that are difficult to verbalize even in your mother tongue no matter how well you can handle it. And now you have to do it in a foreign language. Will my caring sentence or phrase that was meant to be as tender and supportive as it is possible “survive” the double translation? From my mother tongue to English and then from English into her mother tongue?

Why, aren’t you thinking in English when you speak English, you may ask. Most of the time we do. (Although we have developed a kind of our own pidgin with words borrowed both from her and my mother tongue, especially for food, cooking techniques and meals not known around here — and for cursing.) However, when the emotions go this high or, in other words, you have to dig this deep into your feelings… everybody tends to revert back to their mother tongue — at least when trying to find a name for that strange new fear or emotion.

Somehow not only the new learned culture and the second (nth) language comes off but also the “educated”, intellectual part of your brain stops working. We are back to the bare basic instincts: survival and fear of death, elementary anger toward the whole world (why I? why us? why she? why not anybody else?) – and the hope that everything will be OK at the end. I am learning to eloquently speak about hope in English. She tries to listen… Then I try again the next day. And again. I don’t really care about this whole cross-cultural thing theory anymore. I just want to be sure that the message, the main message, namely that I am here for her – gets through. Yet, they say that about 77% of the human communication is non-verbal.

Can I instill the hope and express the caring just like that… wordlessly?


The multicultural ghetto

Filed under: Vita — Moshu @ 12:44 (UTC)
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Somebody at Winnipeg Free Press must be reading my posts and comments here :)

I am preaching in this blog for a long time about the dangers of creating “cultural” ghettoes – thanks to the the multicultural policies.

A few days ago the Editorial in WFP was saying the same:

Beyond the moral outrage that Canadians should feel about this [i.e. politicians showing up and cheering at terrorist organizations' events], they should also feel a deeper concern. Multiculturalism should mean a gradual integration of ethnic groups into the larger society. Political parties nurturing ethnic votes encourage exactly the opposite, cultural ghettoes in the country. No brief political advantage is worth that price.

Due to copyright restrictions I cannot quote the whole article here, although I would like to. And you can see their archives only for seven days.

The source is the Winnipeg Free Press Online – the editorial on Nov 9, 2007.


Spelling – national pride – eurocrats – and the €

Filed under: Blogare necesse... — Moshu @ 20:13 (UTC)
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€ – this is the sign for the EU currency, the euro. As you might have guessed, it comes from the name of the good old continent – Europe. Most of the languages that use the Latin alphabet have a name for this continent derivated from the Old Greek Εὐρώπη (originally, a mythological queen of Crete), and they spell it in a very similar way: Europe, Európa, Europa, Ewrop…

Now, we also heard a lot about the stupid thing the Eurocrats (the burocrats of the Europen Union) invent while they are sitting bored in their offices in Brussels, like the “standard” shape and the curve of the bananas… to be “euroconform”. That’s just plain idiocracy. Unfortunately for the tax payers, very well paid!

One doesn’t really expect from such idiots to have any knowledge in linguistics, although it is a commonly known fact that the Old Greek group of sound ευ, and αυ for that matter, in many Slavic languages has been evolved into “ev” and “av”, respectively. E.g. where we have auto the Russian have ‘avto’ (авто – in Cyrillic). Same with Europe, they call it Европа (try ‘yev-ro-pah’), or in transliteration: evropa. The Bulgarian name and spelling (in Cyrillic) is pretty much similar.

And till now nobody really cared how the Bulgarians, for example, call and spell the continent they live on. But they were not in the European Union (EU) till January this year. Now they are EU-members and the eurocrats want to regulate how they should call the EU currency. Not that it has been introduced in the new member states like Bulgaria or Romania, just for the future.

The Bulgarians think the name should be derivated from their own word for the continent, and spelled “evro” (евро). No way, say the eurocrats, it should be еуро (euro). [BTW, non-English speakers all pronounce it 'eh-oo-roh'] The only problem with the EU spelling is – it means urine in Bulgarian! Not a wise thing to call you money like that… even if it would be worth just shit :)

They are determined to fight the EU. They make it a national pride issue not to let the EU to dictate how they should spell in their own language. Or how they should pronounce a word, even if it is the common currency of the Union. I can feel their pain personally from a different angle: how every native English speaker thinks they should pronounce my name according to their own language’s phonetic rules. No way to make an effort to understand that other languages might have different ways to read the same letter(s). But this is not anout my name…

It is about the lack of understanding that different languages, different cultures might have a different tradition in naming the very same things. They might have a different alphabet with a long historical development that doesn’t fit in the uniformization model of some narrow minded burocrats. In our immigrant-populated Anglo-Saxon countries like Canada, US, Australia if all else fails (outside of our pretty “multicultural ghettos”) we can all turn to English as the common ground and lingua franca. The EU doesn’t have this comfort. Will they invent a new uniform language?


Cross-cultural communication training at Acorn Garden

Filed under: Vita — Moshu @ 10:49 (UTC)

There is an organization in Winnipeg – Acorn Gardens. They have a project to provide creative arts program for trauma and war-affected children and youth.

Recently, they recruited future volunteers and employees for an upcoming pilot project and organized a training for them. I had to honour to be invited to hold a cross-cultural communication workshop. In a way it was the proverbial “proof of the pudding”: the participants were from very different cultural background, so my little seminar had to do what I was ‘preaching’ – to get the message through across cultural boundaries.

Judging by the immediate feedback we managed to communicate quite well, although I have learned to be careful with such statements. Canadians (and even immigrants living in Canada) tend to be very nice, which means they are extremely polite, so don’t expect they would ever say “your presentation sucks”, even if it does! I know I did my best…

Actually, it doesn’t really matter how the participants evaluated the workshop. What matters is this: if anything they learned there will make their work with refugee children easier, it was worth the effort.

Let’s wish them good luck and success with the upcoming project!


Sisulizer – for visual software localization

Filed under: Lingua — Moshu @ 21:53 (UTC)
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If there is a review that really fits into this blog – it should be about Sisulizer: the Visual Software Localization Tool. So, I was quite happy when the company asked for a review of their software. Yes, this is a paid post via ReviewMe!.

I have localized software back when it was called simply translation and we had to mess around with the code files to find the translatable strings. Then came the more advanced solution of having language files in a directory for every language. Finally, in the open source world some methods and tools were developed to make easier the localization efforts.

I find it a very good trend that if a software is not prepared for localization the ever increasing (non English speaking) international community will ignore it.

I really have tried quite a number of translation methods which gives me a good insight when it comes reviewing this new product of Sisulizer Ltd, Finland. Although the product name is new the team behind it is definitely not a bunch of beginners: they have been in this business for many years.

Downloading and installing the Sisulizer’s free trial was as easy as it was supposed to be. Using it seems to be even simpler – once you get all the settings right for your task.

Basically, you follow three steps: scan, translate, build.

When it comes about a localization tool is not surprizing being able to scan a multitude of files to extract the strings/messages for translation; however, Sisulizer goes much further than that. The platforms and languages supported are so many that you should go over to their website and check it out for yourself (from Delphi to HTML through VisualC++ and from Java to .NET and PHP, Windows Binaries… you name it). It can also scan databases. I didn’t try to scan a database but it worked flawlessly with .PO files and HTML, for a quick test.

The translation interface is very friendly and offers a good overview of what you are doing. When it comes about translating, coders and authors of non-open source scripts will love it: after you scanned your software you can send over one single file to your translator located in Antarctica and she will be able to translate it without messing with the whole software and without peeking into your code!Sisu
Another outstanding feature: it is really visual. You can see not only the strings but also where they are coming from, i.e. the context automatically highlighted in the original file, in its original place. And the good news: your translator in Antarctica can use the Free Translation Edition.

Not being a coder or software author myself I can say very little about the third step: building your software in different languages, after the translation has been done. According the documentation that should be easy and painless, too. For a translator as myself Sisulizer is a very comfortable tool. Too bad my evaluation period will end after 30 days… I’d really like to play more with this clever software.

And for those interested in linguistic adventures: try to figure out where the Sisulizer name comes form…

P.S. There is even a big savings offer (up to 50%) if you buy it this month. [no, I don't get commission from the sales!]