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I moved to Asia recently. I have to optimize some production cells, mainly painting cell (manual spray), which means measurements. No operators in the company can speak English. In the offices, some person speak English such as CEO, quality manager, and a little bit the production manager. Some translator are available, but they are pretty busy and cannot be by your side for long.

Unfortunately I am not staying long enough in the company (just few months) to get to learn the language.

I know that communication is the KEY point in industrial engineering, especially when measurement of productivity (and therefore operators) is involved.

What are the key point to follow in order to successfully accomplish a task in a foreign environment?

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Ideally you have someone from the culture that is foreign to you that you trust, who understands what you are trying to do, and is willing to support you. He/she/they can then interface with the operators while you interface with management, guide you through cultural norms, etc. Presumably he/she/they is/are less experienced than you, otherwise there would be no value having you around.

Failing the ideal, you will need to spend more time talking with whomever you can and get their feedback on how to communicate with your team. The main thing is to throw your assumptions out of the window and ask what you would otherwise consider to be "dumb" questions. Find out what are good approaches vs bad approaches, where you have to massage what you are trying to say and where you have to be blunt.

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Communication is one of the most--if not, the most--important contributor to any project's success. If you don't have that capability, you need to get it. Buy it, hire it, do something or give the project up. And remember, communication is way more than speaking the language. That is the easy part. You have culture, norms, mores, folkways, taboos, and laws to worry about that are a huge part of communication and the hardest to get right.

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Over the past 5 years, I have worked with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese speakers in a variety of projects. In my experience:

  • Written correspondence is more successful than spoken communications.
  • Writing in short sentences with simple grammar is more successful than the way typical American/British English have been taught to write
  • Using references to international or industry standards (ISO, NEMA, etc.) can be very helpful since a professionally translated reference manual is probably available.
  • Where possible, use diagrams, spreadsheets, models, animations or other things that might not require translation.

The reasons I recommend written correspondence are that quite a few people have learned grammar and vocabulary to past some school-age test (spoken English is rarely tested) and they have more time to research what you told them.

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Use the technology. Use technology translators like Google etc.. What ever you want to communicate to some one, type in English and translate the same. Check even you can get other way too. Get clearly clarity what you need to do and ask feedback in all the phases. Use more diagrams if possible so that it is easy to communicate and understand too.

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  • I live and work in Asia and have been very unsuccessful with Google Translate and similar tools. Korean, Chinese, and Japanese translations come out much, much worse than French, Spanish, or German translations. – SBWorks Aug 7 '13 at 9:49
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We used to outsource part of our work to Asia, so I know this problem quite good. Miscommunication happens a lot even when everyone speaks the same language, now imagine a language barrier impact. Ideally you need an interpreter at least for each important meeting.If there's no budget for a separate position, maybe you could ask someone in the company who you trust to translate for you for some extra fee, or you may also hire an intern from a language school for this period of time. This person will be interested in gaining experience, and it will cost you less than a professional interpreter.

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