Language as a Culture


One of the most insightful experiences of his MBA program was during a field trip to France, working with an energy think tank on implementation of smart grid across major cities in the country.  The entire senior management of the think tank primarily spoke French, with little-to-no understanding of English.  While almost all MBA students conversed in English.  They had to rely on a translator.

They decided to practice by ‘stimulating the real scenario’ so as to avoid any uncomfortable surprises for the presenters. In doing so, and since they didn’t have a French-speaking individual in the work group, they decided to go with a Greek and a Hindi translator. It wasn’t perfect but good enough practice to manage interjections and pace themselves.

During the exercise, he realized something fundamental yet powerful. Here’s what happened. For every 30-seconds that the English presenter spoke, the Greek translation took about 40-seconds and the Hindi translation took 20-seconds.

To understand what was happening, take a look at how we define relations.  In Hindi, one word ‘CHACHA’ or ‘TAYA’ or ‘MAMA’ defines whether or not your uncle is from your paternal side or maternal side and whether or not he is elder or younger to your parent.

He had an epiphany: how language is fundamental to all cultural understanding.  This was contrary to his experiences of traveling alone to countries where he didn’t know the language but connected with so many people at a more human level.  Were both experiences right in their own context?  May be.

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© 2020 by Rishabh Jhol