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Bridging Technical Communication Barriers Between Cultures

Bridging Technical Communication Barriers Between Cultures

Understanding technical concepts in different languages can sometimes prove to be difficult, particularly when you have to communicate it. In this article, I discuss the challenges and possible courses of action.

Significance of Proper Technical Communication

It’s highly important to make your point precise and clear when defining technical specifications. Neglecting such a precaution could be costly, especially so in the semiconductor industry.

Being a design verification engineer for a foreign company, communicating changes we make to further improve the evaluation results must be understood by the designers (for example, directly soldering wires to board pads to reduce path resistance). If there is a misunderstanding, then problems will occur during the next evaluation.

The same goes the other way around. Another case would be board design. Imagine if the assembly group misunderstood a board specification. There is a chance that the measuring instruments will get damaged, the IC destroyed, or worse, both could occur.

Filling the Gap of Misunderstanding

People from diverse backgrounds seem to have a generally similar perspective of a musical piece. An example is the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which is viewed with haunting serenity, or the backwards movement implied by the last part of Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F minor. The same goes with drawings. Mona Lisa depicts a smile of haunting serenity, and graffiti implies the backwards movement of the last part of ethics in society.

Properly drawn diagrams can have the same effect, and if the other party is adequately versed in English, organizing the information in a list or table is highly effective.

Take the following example:

Dear Kenji Himura-san,

Hi! I have implemented your desired design corrections in the digital block. I have isolated the digital and analog block interferences by extensive modification of the ground pin locations as well as from where I tap my grounds. I have also located the cause of why the IC’s protection circuits keep mistriggering. The FETs are located too close to each other and introduce a parasitic capacitance that re-locates the poles and zeroes of the feedback loop. Also, I am going on a two-week leave with my children so I might not be able to finish the evaluation of the analog blocks on time. Thanks.

Sincerely, Oliver Twist

What is wrong with Oliver’s message above? Would it be easy for Kenji to understand his message or would it consume a lot of his time just to decrypt it even with Google Translate?

Now see the following message:

To: Kenji Himura-san,

Hi! I make changes to design in digital block:

-Separate analog ground pin and digital ground pin.
-Separate analog sense ground pin and digital sense ground pin.

Also, I observe:

-Parasitic capacitance because FETs too near each other.
-Change pole-zero diagram.

I will be on leave for two weeks starting next week Monday. Please inform me if you need anything before that date. I will assign analog block to different engineer during that time. Thanks.

Sincerely, Oliver Twist

We can observe that the second message is easier to understand, even if there are slight grammatical errors. It considers the benefit of writing in list form than in paragraph form. It isn’t too verbose and crammed with big words, so that only a person with a Harvard dictionary would understand it.

I’ve added another improvement to it regarding working behavior. When taking a leave, whether it is an emergency or not, always inform your customer properly and, if possible, don’t leave the project hanging.

Adding illustrations also aids in effective technical communication. The Japanese and Chinese languages are based on illustrations, depicting ideas and information in strokes of lines. Thus, depicting technical information visually would be a big help to designers in those countries.

What Makes Us Different From Machines

Aside from getting the point across, culture is also an important factor to consider. Practices, gestures, and ways of communication in one culture may be offensive in another culture. One should perform a background check of what to do and not do when communicating with people from other cultures in the business world. If you were the customer, wouldn’t you prefer a dealer who also cares about your culture?

Above are just some ways I know on how to effectively communicate technical information with those from other countries. I would like to hear about what methods you use to go around the problem. What kind of precautions and factors do you consider?

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