MITIGATING THE EFFECTS OF A TERRIBLE LANGUAGE

Right around the time my oldest child started bringing home spelling tests every week, I traveled from my home in the US to Prague for a series of meetings. There, I joined a team made up of citizens from seven different countries, each with their own native language. Luckily for me, (perhaps because of me, likely the only monolingual participant in the room), we chose English as the common language. It was during this trip that I fully realized, English is terrible.

Throughout my career, when participating in such global efforts, I am always amazed how people around the world have coalesced on English as the official business language. Usually these efforts involve very complex, brain-challenging projects to begin with, and most of the people in the room have the added burden of translation out of their first language.

During lunch one day in that trip to Prague, I told the story of my daughter's spelling tests. There are many English words whose spelling or pronunciation just defy any sort of rules, and it was frustrating to my young scholar. I related how I found myself apologizing for English because I simply couldn't justify why these words don't make sense.

"Yes! Exactly!" My Czech colleague was suddenly in very animated agreement. "You can't learn English. You must memorize English!"

That moment has stuck with me ever since. I've told the story many times. At some point along the line, I even constructed an illustrative example. Take a look at the sentence below, and try to construct a cohesive rule for the correlation of spelling and pronunciation:

Though it was tough, I thought it through thoroughly, then thawed all the stuff in the trough.

Seriously, can you defend that? English is terrible.

Now consider your workforce. How many on your team learned English as a secondary language? How many are doing internal translations every time they see a written instruction?

Consider some of the more prevalent means of communicating instructions to the workforce today. Paper task lists and text-based screens are typically densely populated and cryptic. They require intense focus to seek specific pieces of information, and most certainly have the worker taking eyes off the surrounding work site (often a moving parts environment). For someone doing the added chore of internal language translation, efficiencies suffer, and safety is always a concern.


Let me be clear: anyone who can function in a job outside of their native language has a skill I personally lack. I take nothing away from the hard-working people doing this every day. I do, however, suggest that we can make this part of their job much easier and less error-prone. 

Pick Wall – Projected d02 (1)

Our solution at LogistiVIEW uses several strategies to achieve this goal.

  • We use colors, shapes and icons, which are more easily recognized and deciphered than dense fields of text.
  • We superimpose these visualizations over the human's field of view, delivering instructions via augmented reality
  • We tailor each step with only the information needed, eliminating clutter and distraction. For us, this is configuration, never coding.

Like many software applications, we offer different language translations. This is an imperfect science at times, in part because many terms in the translation list are specific to the business, process or industry. By minimizing the amount of text at play in the first place, we better control that beast as well.

We may never be able to perfect the historical quirks of any native tongue, but we can get around them. Sometimes, enough is enuff!

David Erickson

David Erickson

Supply Chain Software Development Veteran, Efficiency Expert, Ergonomy Fanatic

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