Succeed in America

Overcome Cultural and Linguistic Barriers. Improve Effectiveness

nara@SucceedinAmerica.com 





P1030591.PNGPhone technology is not perfect. When transmitted over the phone, our speech becomes less intelligible. Often, some letters and intended sounds may sound exactly like other letters and sounds when pronounced over the phone. For instance, often, it is difficult to distinguish “f” from “s”, or A (letter A) from numeral 8 (eight), sound  sound m. (This is an excerpt from How to Talk on the Phone (Business English ESL). 

To clarify, Americans spell over the phone all the time especially when it comes to names and email addresses. As a matter of fact, Americans provide and request correct spelling more often than other nations do. 

When you need to spell something out over the phone, give words or names that are very common for each letter. For instance,” Is it digit 8 or A as in apple? ” Here is another example, 

“My address is 55 Mill Plain Road, Suite 31-F.”  “Is it S as in Samuel?” “No, F as in Frank……”  

If you are unsure of spelling or do not understand the other party, say: 

-Excuse me, how do I spell that?

-Would you spell that for me?

-I am sorry, would you say that again.

More examples.

– My first name is Nara. N as in New York,  A as in ArgentinaR as in RioA as in Amsterdam.

– My name is Nina Shved. How do you spell your last name, please?

– My name is Nina Shved. How do you spell your last name, please? That’s  S  as in San-Franciscoh as in Havana,  as V as in Venice E as in Europe, D as in Denmark. That’s Shved.

 Remember to give words or names that are very common for each letter. I find using widely known geographical names is helpful when spelling words over the phone.

To be able to spell over the phone you need to know the names of the English alphabet.  The following table contains the names of the  letters and suggested words to identify them over the phone:

The Names of the Letters of the American Alphabet

 

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tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon

 

 

 


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thumb_Laughterand-Leadership1_1024We all know that humor is good for you. Lighthearted laughter will regulate one’s blood pressure, accelerate recovery from illness, and decrease stress in the workplace. In other words, laughter can be good medicine.  [pullquote] How people perceive humor is culture specific [/pullquote]

It’s true that all cultures enjoy humor and laughter, but how people perceive humor is culture specific. With increasing cultural diversity in the workplace, we need to keep in mind that humor is meant to be funny, not insulting. What perceived as funny in one culture might not be understood or might even be insulting in another. Some cultures use sarcastic or put-down humor in conversations so as to tease each other. Other cultures do not use sarcastic humor and find this type of humor offensive. Often, in a diverse gathering an inappropriate joke may misfire. So I do not recommend poke fun at other groups and individuals in professional and business gatherings (and in personal life as well!).

How to determine what kind of humor is appropriate? [pullquote] I recently met a manager who was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business! [/pullquote]

1. If you want some fun, have it at your own expense – the safest type of humor is self-depreciating humor.
2. Do not tell jokes related to physical appearance like a person’s height, weight, or the size of their nose and the like.
3. Keep in mind that humor does not translate well because very often it is based on word plays or puns, and these do not translate easily into another language.
4. Do not tell political, religious, ethnic, racial jokes other jokes that ridicule peoples’ beliefs or affiliations or even accents. In one organization, I recently met a manager who was demoted for repeatedly ridiculing an employee’s accent. As you can see, sometimes “humor” is no funny business!

So, know what, when, where, who, and how to kid around appropriately in the workplace.

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tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon




man and woman faces vector profilesSocially acceptable behavior varies across cultures—what holds right in one society may not be so in another. Consider this passage by Laura Klos-Sokol, cited in Riall W. Nolan’s book “Communicating and Adapting Across Cultures”:

“Imagine a professional meeting beginning like this: a woman enters an office and introduces herself, extending her hand to shake only to have him kiss it. Next, he helps her off with her coat and takes her by the arm to usher her over to a chair three feet away. This is the Polish way: she could sue for it in the United States.”

Many times I have encountered similar behavior in my native country. This was part of good manners and was considered ‘classy’ behavior. In some cultures, males are expected to be dominant and gallant. On the other hand, when I first experienced the American ‘bear hug’ in Armenia with a man from the US, it made me very uncomfortable and I was relieved that my fellow countrymen were not there to witness such a gesture.

Expats who have been sent to the US must consider the unspoken rules of gender interaction accepted in this country. Not knowing the rules may have a traumatic effect and even be dangerous from a legal perspective—the employer may be sued for sexual harassment. On the other hand, a female student of mine from northern Brazil once told me how she missed that whistle of admiration – or tease, I thought— from the men when she would pass by. [pullquote] whistling is not something you would expect a man to do in the American workplace, even if you are Sophia Loren, Melania Trump, or Miss America.  [/pullquote]

It may be normal in some northern Brazilian workplaces to whistle when an attractive woman passes by, but whistling is not something you would expect a man to do in the American workplace, even if you are Sophia Loren, Melania Trump, or Miss America. 

Men in Italy are notorious for whistling at attractive women in such a manner that would make many American construction workers blush. Italian, Brazilian, and Armenian women may not take offense at such behavior and may even take it as expression of appreciation. As a rule, however, professional women in the US do not appreciate it. It can be very disturbing and threatening for North American women and they may deem it inappropriate and discriminatory. As a nation, Americans are committed to equal rights for women. For this reason, women are expected to be treated as equal to men. 

Many countries throughout the world have laws guarding against sexual harassment in the workplace. However, different nations have different interpretations of them. That is why I define sexual harassment in my book, Ameri$peak , as “inappropriate—from an American standpoint—behavior when interacting with the opposite sex.”

(This is an excerpt from Dr. Nara’s article published in Worldwide ERC Mobility Magazine.

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tn[2] (2)**Dr. Nara Venditti is the owner of Succeed In America specializing in business communication skills for foreign-born professionals and cross-cultural communication in the workplace. She is passionate about cross-cultural understanding and helping non-native speakers of English succeed in the American workplace. She
 speaks  and writes on Business English and communication across languages and cultural divides. She is  the author of numerous articles and books on the topics available on SucceedinAmerica  and  on  Amazon amazon-underground-app-us-black.    

 
Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents.
Many non-native speakers understand this  and  believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. 
This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important.
Take so called tag questions.
Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question.
Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning.
Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 
      1)     with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation)
      2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning.
Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person.
Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway.
What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.
 
To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.
Cultural values often govern how people perform,  react to aspects of their work, and interact in the workplace.

What are cultural values? There are many definitions of cultural values.  Many scholars define values as consciously and subconsciously held set of beliefs and norms – often reflected in the morals, laws, customs, and practices of the society. Simply put, cultural values are the basis for establishing a system of moral principles governing the appropriate conduct within the culture.

Because of increasing diversity in the American workplace, successful mangers and employees need to understand how cultural values play out in the workplace. Consider this example.  An American and Asian employee were assigned to a particular project.  Their manager critiqued their work. The American employee spoke up in defense of his performance while the Asian employee remained silent.  The manager may mistake the Asian’s reaction to signify agreement or incompetence.  Since respectable assertiveness is valued in the American workplace,  the manager would likely think more highly of the American employee. The result could affect promotion opportunities.  The assertive employee is more likely to move up in his career than the Asian employee.
We are constantly judged by what we say and how we say it. One of the things that could be in the way of  a favorable image is a heavy accent. That’s when accent reduction comes to the rescue. I actually call accent reduction an “accent makeover”.  Why makeover? Just as accomplishing an image makeover, your unique personality is still there but it is a better you.  The same with an accent makeover.  You still have an accent but your speech  is easy to understand and you articulate your ideas more clearly and persuasively.  And we know how important that is in business and in personal life! There are a number of tips that will help you  effectively reduce your accent.  I will list the top three. 1. When you speak English,  speak slowly.  The faster you speak, the heavier your accent will be. For the average American speaker, the rate is not as fast as , say, in Indian languages.  Here is a quick tip for you – stretch your vowel sounds and your speech will be slower and easier to understand. 2. Enunciate.  Enunciating means producing sounds very distinctly.  Pay special attention to word endings and vowels. 3. Read aloud every day and tape yourself.  Listen to the tapes, critique yourself.  Repeat words over and over.  Remember, accent makeover takes practice. Yes, it could be a lot of work, but your efforts will be rewarded.  If you can express yourself clearly and persuasively, you will build better relationships and achieve your career goals faster.
Strong accent can have an enormous impact on how people are perceived. In a University of Chicago study, it was found that people with  non-native accents are perceived as”  less credible” than those with native accents. Many non-native speakers understand this  and believe that it is pronouncing sounds correctly that will help to make themselves understood and  to make their point. This is true but my  advice to you – don’t focus just on difficulties you have with some sounds.  In many  cases, intonation is much more important. Take so called tag questions. Tag Questions, or, questions tags, are short phrases that change a declarative statement into a question .For example, “You are Vanessa Del Monte, aren’t you?”,  “aren’t you?” is the tag question. Just as in many languages, tag questions are more common in everyday spoken conversational English including its business variety. However, in English, different intonation or music in tag questions, carries different meaning. Two examples of the same statement “You are moving to New York, aren’t you?”: 1) with falling intonation, “aren’t you?” implies that you are sure of something and looking for confirmation.  (I am sure that you are moving and I want your confirmation) 2)      with rising intonation, “aren’t you?” expresses uncertainty. (I am not sure you moving and I want an answer) . Although a sentence may be grammatically correct and pronounced correctly, the wrong intonation of a tag question may convey unintended meaning. Consider the following situation involving an ELL and ESL learner.  While on a date at a restaurant you say, “You like this restaurant, don’t you? With rising intonation, “don’t you?” sounds like you are asking if she likes it. However, with falling intonation don’t you? sounds like you are telling her to like it. What do you think her reaction will be?  Right, you guessed.  This could be your last date with this person. Consider another situation. You are planning a one day vacation and you ask your colleague to cover your desk for a day. “You will cover my desk, won’t you?”  With rising intonation, it will sound as if you are politely asking for help.  With falling it will sound as an order or assignment which you are not  authorized for anyway. What will it do to your relationship?  You’re right again.  Nothing good.   To summarize, be careful when using tag questions.  Their intonation may send a wrong message.  
In the English language, there are words and expressions that are used more frequently than others. While the subtleties of how they are used can be confusing for non-native speakers of English, recognizing and using them properly will help improve conversational English – due to their higher frequency of usage in spoken English. Two such words are “can” and “can’t”. These words have opposite meaning and are often confused by non-native speakers (ELL and ESL students and professionals) because they may sound the same to a foreigner’s ear. What is confusing is that native speakers tend to reduce the vowel in “can” and omit the “t” in “can’t”. Misunderstanding and misusing them may create havoc in business. I will illustrate using a few examples: CAN: What a baby can do? A baby can cry. A baby can eat. In these two sentences, CAN is used along with a verb (cry and eat). Here “can” is pronounced as [kÉ™n] or [kn]. In other words the “a” sound [æ] is reduced. However, in some cases [æ] is not reduced, not stressed: 1. When CAN is the last word in a sentence: E.g., Yes I CAN – [kæn], or:I will do it as soon as I CAN. 2. When used as negative, both in full – CANNOT and abbreviated – CAN’T. E.g., You CANNOT or CAN’T use the pool after 9 PM. 3. When it is stressed, or emphasized. E.g., I will prove to you that I CAN run a marathon. CAN’T: What a baby can’t do? A baby “CAN’T” speak or A baby “CAN’T”walk. A non-native speaker may not distinguish this subtle difference and this may sound much like “CAN” [kæn]. So, CAN is not stressed Except for thee three situations listed above). CAN’T is always stressed which means the negative form of can is very strong. One Last tip, to be 100% sure 1) Ask to clarify – Do you mean “CAN” or “CANNOT?; 2) Use the full word – To express negative, say – I “CANNOT”. Practice: read aloud the sample sentences listed in this article a few times until you get it right.
Every professional needs to have a little teacher in them. I believe that one of the best ways to persuade and  influence people or market your product or service is by educating.  Educating your customers on the value of your offerings demonstrates your knowledge and expertise and will build credibility and promote long-term, trusting relationships.

In any industry, be it education when teacher needs to persuade their students on importance of their subject, in healthcare, when a doctor or a nurse needs to gain patient’s buy in into the treatment, and in just about  in any other industry educating your customers on your offerings and ideas will build your credibility, trust and long-term relationships. This especially applies to multicultural customers because they are more likely to be unfamiliar with many products and services and how things are done in the US. Yet, learning styles vary across cultures.

Although there are individual differences, consider two studies that indicate generally most cultures can be grouped by how information is absorbed.  One study shows that Hispanics prefer hands-on (kinesthetic) learning. They prefer group activities and better grasp the benefits of a product or a service when they can try it. They also prefer the use of illustrations, graphs and drawings over listening. While another study of academic achievements of international students in the US, showed that Asians tend to be more visual, probably due to the hieroglyphic nature of Asian languages. Both cultures tend to perform worse when the instruction is primarily verbal.  However, verbal instruction is just about the most common in the US and, often than not, sales presentations are delivered verbally.

We can see why this may not work well for multicultural customers.  Add here language differences and you will see how effectiveness of educational marketing may suffer. So, for better results know the learning preferences of the culture you are interacting with. Also, remember that some people may have a mix of learning styles and display a certain learning style that may change depending on situation. However, as is often the case, what to do when dealing with mixed cultural groups such as in the classroom or in some workplace situations?  Simply use multimodal presentation, employing oral explanation, written materials, images and hands-on activities if possible.
Do you want to expand your customer base and increase revenue? QUIZ: How many of you know that one in five in the US speak a foreign language at home or that 70% of the economic growth in the US is due to minorities? When teaching a workshop on multicultural marketing, typical all hands will go up at the first question and only some at the second question. Yet seldom a hand will go up when I ask if participants know how to go about building rapport with multicultural clientele. Mastering how to develop strong, lasting, and profitable relationships across cultures in the community may be as easy as remembering an acronym N.A.R.A. Never Assume – Never assume that all clients are like you or that one size fits all. We tend to think that our way is the best way. However, this is not the case. For instance, for one culture making eye contact could be a sign of respect but for another culture avoiding eye contact shows respect. In another example, n many Asian and South American cultures looking down while addressing a customer shows respect while other cultures would consider this to be rude.  Ask  – Always ask for their preferences. Our most common behaviors may not apply to all cultures. Rather, as a way of showing respect and gaining confidence, discuss their practices and preferences. For instance, ask questions like,  “Would you like to be addressed by your first name or last name?”,  “Should I extend my hand first to shake a woman’s hand?”,  “ Is it appropriate to ask about the customer’s health or family?”, “Should I embrace, bow or shake hands when greeting the customer?” Relate– Try to relate on many levels. Americans tend to follow the principle “Let’s get down to business” while for other cultures “Let’s get to know each other first” would be more appropriate. A great relationship builder is to use basic phrases  in LingioClick$™. For instance try saying “shen-shen”(thank  in Chinese), “gracias” (thank you in Spanish) or “shukria” (thank you in the Indian languages) and you will see how your customers’ eyes light up! They may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel. And, as with most consumers, more often than not our emotions shape our decisions. Ask the expert – Learn about the cultural norms and values of the immigrant communities in your area by attending ethnic festivals, meeting your potential customers and their leaders face-to-face. Read literature, attend a seminar or organize a workshop. Also try building relationships on their turf and then invite them to your place of business. While we are not expected to be experts in every culture in the world, we should be aware of important issues pertaining to demographics that we want to do business with. I have outlined a framework for building relationships and rapport across cultures. While it may seem simple, the devil is in details. Keep in mind that cultural competence is not a destination, it is a journey and that those who pay attention to the details will succeed.