Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Translation Factors (be more like Lady Liberty)

The process used to grasp the power of social networks is similar to the process of learning a new language. I have learned three languages in my life, one of them Southern, and I found similarities in the process each time, even though I was at very different places in my life each time.

I learned French in elementary school. In each grade (1-6), I had French class with a wonderful teacher. I took French again in 9th or 10th, and realized I remembered very little from before.

I learned German in my late teens. I was in the military in Germany, and I learned how to order beer, french fries, and schnitzel. I learned German so I could engage in commerce. I later learned German so I could do my job better. I worked undercover narcotics and often dealt with drug dealers who spoke German. It saved my life on at least a couple of occasions, because I didn't always let on that I spoke German.

I learned Southern in my mid-20s. After Germany, I moved to Tennessee where a sizable percentage of the population spoke the language. I learned how to say all kinds of things, and engage in a variety of transactions.

So here's how the translation thing works. Say you and I are talking. My customary language is L1, and you are fluent in L2. I am learning L2, so I will engage you in a discussion using proper terms and speaking rather slowly. You humor me and tell me how well I speak your language, but inside you wish it didn't feel like it took a lot of time to get me to answer a question.

I get more proficient in your language, and begin increasing my vocabulary, and am a little quicker with my responses. We talk even more and more frequently. You sincerely note that I am improving, but there is still something missing. It's not that I don't understand every word you say, because I do. So what is it?

It is the process I am using to communicate with you in your language. When you say something to me, I receive it in L2, translate to it to my customary language (L1), process the communication in L1, translate it back to L2, and then (and only then) deliver my thoughts to you in L2. The extra time you are noticing is the processing time (not unlike the time it takes to switch between applications on a computer when you have one-too-many windows open).

So when does that change?

The process speeds up when I begin to think in the language in which I am speaking. Said another way, if you and I are conversing in L2, we should both be thinking in L2. Hard to do? Perhaps at first, but with some practice it comes. At some point, I'll even start dreaming in L2, and I'll find myself in conversation in L1 and translating to L2 before speaking in L1.


Here's how that "translates" to a message on social networking.

We know that the up-and-coming generation (and a few techies and musicians) brought social networking to it's first benchmark. But recently, many adults (often more mature) that were not previously engaged in this phenomenon have begun testing the waters. Those of us who try to explain the environment and the benefits and all the other fantastic aspects of this new world often feel like we are talking to people who (as they say in Tennessee) aren't from 'round here. As a result, we may get frustrated, or worse . . . speak slowly in a higher volume. That doesn't work with the spoken language, and it won't work with social networking.

If we want to help these immigrants (we were all one once), we need to take the time to walk with them for a while. We need to explain the customs and traditions of the social networking space, and perhaps even provide them with a list of dos and don'ts. We need to stop being impatient when we here them speaking with a traditional-world accent and stop trying to finish their sentences. We need to welcome them, and prepare them for the new and exciting experiences they will engage in.

So get to thinking about how you can be more like Lady Liberty . . . "Give me your set-in-their-ways, your that-stuff's-for-kids, and your I-don't-see-why-we-have-to-do-that's." Stand on the shore with an outstretched arm. You (and they) will be richly rewarded!

What do you think?

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