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China OEM Manufacturing. Deep Six The English?

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How many of you know what “deep six” means? How many of you have used equally difficult to comprehend slang/words when emailing with your Chinese manufacturer?  How many times has your Chinese manufacturer emailed you back to seek clarification of such words or of anything at all?  I am betting not often.

I had a great conversation the other day with one of my law firm’s savviest China clients.  This is a person/company who has been engaged in China OEM manufacturing for nearly twenty years.  I asked him how things were going and he launched into how he was now communicating with his Chinese manufacturers only in Chinese and that doing so had immediately led to all sorts of improvements.  He said that he had made the switch after realizing that so many of the problems he had been having with his suppliers were due to “silly miscommunications.”  He said the last straw (there I go again with the slang) was when his supplier confused “June” for “July” and delivered product a month late.

He now pays a US-based professional translator (the same one every time) to translate everything he sends to his manufacturers, including (and especially) all emails and all Purchase Orders. His OEM contracts were already in Chinese.  For why it makes sense to have your China OEM Agreements in Chinese, check out China OEM Agreements. Why Ours Are In Chinese. Flat Out (there I went again with the slang).

What he kept telling me is how much more often he is now communicating with his manufacturers and how much more often his China manufacturers are writing back seeking clarification. I said that I thought it interesting that his Chinese manufacturers were seeking clarifications more often now that he was communicating with them in Chinese than when he was communicating with them in English.  He responded by saying that they had previously been too embarrassed to seek clarifications because that would be to admit that their English was not very good.  He also thinks (and I agree) that there are a whole slew of mediocre translators in China who will give their bosses a bad translation rather than admit that they do not understand the English.

Interesting idea communicating with Chinese manufacturers in just Chinese.  I like it.  What do you all think?

  • Vigarano

    Excellent subject (especially for a professional communicator, who has lived outside his own culture for over 20 years!).

    And your client is *on the money* with his switch to Chinese-only correspondence with his factory/factories. Of course his factories were too embarrassed to ask for linguistic clarification. Either that or (even worse!) they thought they knew what he meant.

    Another point is that in face-to-face communication, the longtime expat can visually monitor his counterpart’s reactions to what he is saying, and if any trace of confusion appears on his counterpart’s face, the sentence can be rephrased. I do that often. In email – and even among native speakers misunderstandings often occur – that’s not possible. Perhaps our counterparts are even running our emails through Google Translate (atrocious for English-to-Asian languages or vice versa).

    Your client’s point about bad translators is another good one. When I was a publisher of corporate magazines and newspapers and electronic media in Hong Kong and Shanghai, I was lucky enough to get a referral from a friend of a superb translator/interpreter whom I hired as my chief editor. His outstanding abilities made us easily the best in our industry for Chinese-language editorial (but didn’t stop our Chinese clients from trying to edit his Chinese … everyone – in every language – thinks if they can speak a language, they can write it!), and allowed me to see quite easily how many poor quality translators are out there.

    The business case for doing what your client has done is *a slam dunk* (an idiomatic phrase many Chinese will get, given the popularity of basketball in China!), and will repay your client many times over. He has *hit a home run* (an idiom they perhaps WON’T get!) with that one, I think. :)

  • Harland

    Oh, yes. I have been asked for help a few times, and the way that Americans write is just horrible. It’s not just slang and idioms, either. Although those are quite bad enough. It’s brand new net slang and references to movies. It’s like it has never occurred to these people that they’re communicating with someone to whom English is a second or third language. “Oh, he speaks English, therefore he understands *everything*” when I, a fellow native speaker, have trouble divining what the American is trying to say.

  • http://www.qualityinspection.org/ Renaud Anjoran

    I love that story. And it is not isolated. I see more and more importers who hire a Chinese speaker (e.g. a student in their city), or a sourcing girl in Shenzhen/Shanghai, to manage supplier communications.
    The biggest advantage is that communication doesn’t go only through the English-speaking salespeople. They can be read by managers, engineers, and so on.

  • China Newz

    Seems like a logical thing to do and probably better for clarification. Even if every form of communication is translated into Chinese, there is still a chance at miscommunication (people misunderstand orders placed in English to English business deals) but this method seems to reduce the odds and probably gives a better basis for a legal claim if things do go awry.

  • Karl Metzner

    There are few things as valuable–and difficult to quantify–as communication skills.
    It’s interesting to consider why it took so long for this “savvy” American to use Chinese–and why so many others still do not. Arguments against providing a Chinese translation include: extra time and expense of preparing the translations; loss of control over communication; the assumption that it is a seller’s (or service provider’s) obligation to communicate effectively.
    But your client apparently overcame these arguments by realizing that they were outweighed by the importance of clear communication.