Three Reasons Why Language and Culture Matter in Reassignment

February 5, 2015 / by Rachel Reardon

The chance to work in a foreign country offers incredible opportunities to any employee: it’s a chance to move up the career ladder, gain new skills, and reinvent yourself as the cool cat you were never able to be at home. But it can also be daunting thinking about moving to a new country. Learning the language is a huge help in making reassignment easier, but that’s only one part of the solution. Getting acclimated to the culture is just as important. Here are three reasons why language and culture matter in reassignment.

1. Small interactions can cause big problems.

Knowing what to expect in small interactions--whether grocery shopping in Germany or getting a haircut in Thailand--helps any assignee feel at home. Imagine if you didn’t know to bring your own bag and bag your own groceries at the Berlin Aldi: the checkout clerk gets frustrated with you, you have to go back and buy a bag, and the line of people behind you can’t believe how disorganized you are! Avoid stress and embarrassment by learning these small customs ahead of time.

2. Make a great first impression.

If you live by the adage, “But everyone speaks English!” (which isn’t true, by the way), you’re missing an important opportunity to make a great first impression. Even if all you can say in Urdu is “hello” and “do you have mango-flavored smoothies?” you will charm your Pakistani colleagues with your willingness to communicate with them in their language. Even if you conduct business in English, you will find that people are more receptive if you make an effort to reach out and understand their culture.

3. Language and culture are two sides of the same coin.

So you’re feeling good about your language skills. You’ve studied Arabic since high school, spent a year in Algeria, and keep up your skills by listening to Maghrebi music. But when you get to your assignment in Egypt, you find that people are giving you crazy looks when you start speaking to them--or even laughing at you! Why is this happening?

It’s important to remember that language and culture give each other unique flavors. Just like Maghrebi Arabic is colored by the culture of North Africa, Egyptian Arabic is influenced by the very different history, peoples, and influences of that region. So even if your language skills are spot-on, it’s important to learn the culture to pick up on linguistic differences and idiosyncrasies. Just like understanding the culture isn’t going to get you very far without understanding the language, knowing the language isn’t all that useful if you don’t know the culture.

Luckily, Mango is here to help every reassigned employee learn language and culture as they prepare to work abroad. Each Mango course contains oodles of useful cultural info to help employees and their families fit in with a new culture after reassignment, make a great impression, and feel confident and comfortable in their new home.

Topics: Corporate

Rachel Reardon

Written by Rachel Reardon

Rachel works with some of the coolest marketers, designers, and writers around to help Mango look and sound its best. She loves bold colors, old books, the Montréal metro, and Star Trek. She has conflicting feelings about the Oxford comma.

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