For the Vietnamese translation of this article, click here.
Profile of Dr. Nancy Napier
If ever we worry that our high-tech
world will overpower our high touch needs, we should remember that in
Vietnam, electronic mail is “two computers massaging each other.”
lived in Hanoi, Vietnam, for several years when my colleagues were just
beginning to learn English. Although I have some language skills—I
speak German, can keep up somewhat in French, studied (and have
forgotten) Japanese—Vietnamese is beyond me. When I reached the lesson
where I learned that two words just a smidgeon different from each other
could mean “chapel” or “brothel,” I gave up. Just how would it look to
some Vietnamese early on a Sunday morning if a straight-looking American
female professor asked for a house of ill repute?
Church or something else? Church!
So I look to my colleagues with awe and amazement as they
speak their own form of English. And the results, while sometimes funny,
are always charming, and often enlightening. If a few cases, I’ve
simply adopted the Vietnam-English phrases because they make more
For instance, business lingo in America might benefit from
the twists of English that give shape to the forms of business entities.
In Vietnam, the “regal framework” outlines the business structure of a
company and, in some ways, pointedly reflects how we in America
sometimes feel as the regulations and legalities come across as being
imperial, where we have little say.
When the “regal structure”
sets up “join-ventures,” that may better capture the intended nature of
joint ventures, with its aim of real collaboration.
Those firms then must decide upon internal structures, with options of
being “flattering” or “tall and fat,” which, I’d say, about sums up most
of our approaches to hierarchy. Instead of a human resource department,
why not a “human rescue department?” The human rescue department can
show a caring attitude toward new employees, who are “deeply
interviewed” during recruitment, conveying a sense that the firm and its
human rescue employees worry about finding a good match. Finally, the
human rescue department in Vietnam also hints at some of the potential
for tension in training activities, where employees learn new skills and
knowledge in a “training bowl.”
Indeed, English from the mouths
of new learners should bring a spring to the step and smile to the face
of any jaded native English speaking manager. How can one not want to be
in a place where “management from the seat of my bicycle” dominates,
where it's possible to find “gold opportunities,” where the “level of
backward is different from other fields,” and where a firm has “decided
to delight any customer?”
And finally, anyone who needs a polite
way to get rid of a nagging colleague, customer or billing firm might
use this approach:
“Hello, this is Joe.”
“Sorry, Joe is not here.”
“No, this IS Joe.”
“Sorry, Joe is still not here.”
Now, forgive me as I move on to my next "death line," deadline for those in the U.S.
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