Imagine the follwing scene: you are in Spain on a business trip. You are having a conversation with your business partner about new and old style architecture and you make a comment about how much you like the old medieval style doors. However, instead of saying “puertas” in the feminine, you make a mistake and say the masculine “puertos.”
Suddenly, your business partner agrees with you, saying, “Yes, Cadiz was one major sea connection in history and I can just imagine those old galleons sailing out across to America.”
Your brain goes into overdrive trying to understand why the conversation has changed course, what mistake in foreign language translation was made and, finally, whether to explain the misunderstanding or to fake it and just go with the flow of the conversation. So, honestly answer the following question now: which one of the following actions would you take under these circumstances?
- Honestly admit that there has been a misunderstanding and clarify what you really wanted to say.
- Happily go with the flow and agree to everything your partner is saying.
- Look dazed and confused and ask what he is talking about.
If we are honest, all of us have had these moments with foreign language translation mistakes. Whenever speaking with counterparts in other languages, it is really quite normal for there to be misunderstandings.
Until you reach a degree of fluency where you can actually realise that someone is on a different wavelength or you yourself can speak well enough to avoid such moments, you need to learn how to recover from miscommunication in business. Some moments can be extremely embarrassing, as I have painstakingly found out more than once when words may actually create a whole new expression which should definitely not be a part of your daily vocabulary!
Obviously, the proper method you take to recover from the mistakes in foreign language translation also depends on the circumstances and who your conversation partner is. If you are in a personal and nonprofessional situation, you may not have any problems with owning up, telling the truth and explaining that you have not understood or that there has been some form of miscommunication.
On the other hand, when you there are miscommunications in business situations and especially in the middle of a negotiation, it may be extremely uncomfortable as well as embarrassing to own up. However, if there really is any doubt as to meaning or understanding, then it may be imperative to the deal that you really stop and clarify before agreeing and moving on.
For this reason, it is essential at some point to know language expressions which enable you to clarify, ask for more information or ask the other party to restate or reformulate information. Learn how clarify miscommunications in different languages with the following questions:
- Could you just repeat that for me please?
- May I just clarify with you, do you mean “leeway” or “headway”?
- I’m sorry, did you mean to say “foot” or “food” ?
- Can I just ask you, what does “procrastinate” mean?
- Excuse me, can you tell me what you meant to say with “deemed”?
- Is that “50 days” as in “five-zero” or “15” as in “one-five”?
- I’m sorry, was that 8 o’clock in the morning or in the evening?
- Would you mind reformulating that for me?
- Would you mind saying that using different words, I am not sure I really got that.
- I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that, could you please summarise your idea for me?
- I’m sorry to interrupt, but what does “estimate” mean?
Furthermore, always try to be sympathetic with people who are speaking a foreign language. If you speak one yourself then you know how it feels. Be patient and attentive with people that lack confidence.
Remember, it is extremely helpful when speaking with non-natives to really check-in with them for understanding and to try and find out if they really are following what you are saying. In this way, you can create a rapport between the two of you that makes them feel that they are with a person who accepts their mistakes. Also, you will make them feel comfortable enough to ask for clarification and meaning whenever necessary. Ultimately, you really will be able to neutralise embarrassment and awkwardness.
Finally, always keep your sense of humour. Sometimes a faux pas in foreign language translation can be absolutely hilarious. Learn to laugh about them. I highly recommend that you try to get hold of a list of words and expressions that you should not say, but should be aware of. Believe me, once you discover you have said something “inappropriate”, you will surely never make the same mistake again.