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From the Road: A Trip Across the Pond

Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

During my last trip to the United Kingdom, I found myself struggling to respond to what seemed like a simple question, “Blooming brass monkey weather isn’t it?” Even though the person addressing this question was speaking English, and even though I understood each individual word, I was completely oblivious to what he asked. Even when the conversation continued, I was stuck on that phrase—struggling to figure out the meaning.

After this conversation ended, I sat down to prep for my class. As I reviewed my material, I saw a lot of phrases and expressions that had the potential to create the kind of confusion I had just experienced. So this month, I wanted to talk about teaching VitalSmarts material to culturally diverse groups.

I’ve found the best thing to do in these situations is to translate. I try to identify jargon and VitalSpeak—phrases and expressions we use to name skills or describe ideas—before the class starts so I can be prepared to translate them during the session. For example, when training abroad and talking about a Sucker’s Choice, I might say something like, “We’re now going to look at a Sucker’s Choice, a perceived choice between two options that are both bad,” and follow that with an example. At other times translating is simpler. In Influencer, one of the videos mentions Chex Mix. Before this video plays, I say, “Dr. Wansink is going to mention something called Chex Mix. Chex Mix is a snack made of dry cereal and nuts.”

Then during the class, I’ve also found it very useful to have participants turn to a partner and summarize the main idea of what they’ve just learned. This helps them internalize the idea, and allows the trainer to clarify any misunderstandings. I’ve also had a lot of fun identifying local expressions and phrases for the terms in the material.

So good luck with your trainings, wherever you may be holding them, and always remember to “Eat what you can with your Grandfather’s fork.” Don’t ask me what that means.

9 thoughts on “From the Road: A Trip Across the Pond”

  1. Mary

    As in “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’?

  2. Doug Harrell

    Avoiding slang when speaking to non-native English speakers (or even, as you pointed out, non-American English speakers) is not only an important courtesy, but also very important to getting your message across. Years ago when we were living in Italy, my wife went to a technical conference that provided simultaneous translation of all presentations into English, Italian, French and German. During one presentation, an American software company was pitching their product. Their presentation was riddled with typical American slang such as, “This product is great and it will knock your socks off!” and “We’ve really hit a home run with this one.” Out of curiosity, my wife switched her headphones over to Italian to see how all of this was being translated. The translation [in Italian] was “They are saying their product is good. Now they are saying something about socks. Now they are saying something about hitting a house.” Clearly they were not delivering the message they thought they were. Slang is colorful and fun, but it is not communication unless your listeners understand it.

  3. valerie andruss

    Excellent point and one that’s frequently overlooked. BTW: on the off chance nobody has told you yet, that weather reference was to weather “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”. Here’s a possible etiology:

  4. Greg Brandt

    Jargon and Vitalspeak may inhibit shared meaning. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Mary Tenant

    “Eat what you can with your Grandfather’s fork” I think this means to try and profit by your grandfather’s experience. Similar to ” Old gold is as good as new gold” In other words you can save yourself alot of time and trouble if you will learn from others without having to have the same experience yourself. For example: touching an electric fence that is on, someone else describes what happened to them when they did it. Now if you are wise you now know not to touch an electric fence when it is on without having had the unpleasant experience.

  6. Mary Tenant
  7. Lynda Liles

    Re From the Road
    A Trip Across the Pond

    What IS blooming brass monkey weather?

  8. Luann Woneis

    What a hoot! Thanks to the other readers for letting me know what “brass monkey weather” and “eating with your granfather’s fork” meant. I was dying to know.

  9. Steve Willis

    I found out that it means really cold weather.

    @Lynda Liles

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