Export services not language

Language is business. It’s not just a tool for businesses to communicate with each other. Languages export and import words.

We’re very generous with the English language and frequently allow our words to spread across the world and infiltrate any language that we come into contact with. I suspect it’s mainly to do with American culture, Hollywood and the language of technology but I’ll play my part.

I remember my French teacher saying ahead of a French oral exam, if you’re absolutely stuck and can’t think of the word, try the English word with a French accent. There’s a chance you’ll get it right (A friend then tried “grape” which unfortunately is “raisin” in French but it was worth a try.) Can you see where English tourists that gesticulate and speak louder to be understood get their arrogance from? I bet non-native speakers learning English don’t get those ‘handy’ tips. Say the Croatian word with an English accent, you never know, they might understand you, hmmm. 

It’s not only our words that get exported, English grammar and sentence structure is spreading too.

In English we say something makes sense, which in German should be es hat Sinn. But now many Germans say “es macht Sinn” a direct translation of the English. I’ve said it too, thinking it was genuine German. I’ve also said Ich rufe Sie zurück (direct translation from ‘I’ll call you back’) instead of Ich rufe Sie wieder an.

Let’s not even get into gedownloadet or downgeloadet instead of heruntergeladen (downloaded) – even as a native English speaker I prefer the original German.

The problem with this happening is that the distinctions between languages get blurred. 

Denglisch (a mish mash of Deutsch and English) arises when people who speak both languages use German words or structures when speaking or writing English.

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Rucksack is another word we’ll keep, thank you

Although the English language may have adopted a fair few German terms like Schadenfreude, Fest, Doppelganger etc., German grammar constructions and literal translations are less well received and highlight the differences. If you want your English-speaking clients to focus on your message without getting distracted by minor yet common errors, make sure you get your texts checked by a native speaker.

It makes the difference between a journal accepting a research paper… or not. A website visitor finding what they need… or not. Sealing the deal with your international distributor… or not – because they rightly or wrongly suspect they’ll have to do unnecessary extra work reproducing and correcting documentation before giving it to their clients.

It’s not what you say, but how you say it (Der Ton macht die Musik) that has the biggest impact.