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Foreign Words Without Literal English Translations: How to Use Them (and Where They Might Come Up in the Workplace)

language, mango

Learning the basics of a new language is a challenge all assignees must master at some point during their assignment. However, no matter how much we love languages in all shapes and sizes, there are some foreign words that can trip up even the most apt language learner.

Many languages have words with no direct English translations, making them a challenge for assignees to learn prior to departure. Fortunately, learning new words is the number two interest we’d mention in our online dating profile (right after teaching new words to you!). Here are a few of our favorites.

Lagom (Swedish)

If your assignee is Sweden-bound, they should take the concept of lagom to heart. Lagom is a concept heavily integrated in Swedish culture meaning that one should live in moderation and only take what is necessary. Lagom has both social and economic meaning for Swedes. Instead of a culture based on consumerism your assignee may be used to, Swedish culture tends to reject this notion and Swedes pride themselves on equality. If your assignee is dead-set on always getting the largest kardemummabulle (or Swedish cardamom roll) at their breakfast meeting, advise they get there earlier to avoid the judgment of their lagom-loving coworkers.

Greng-jai (Thai)

Assignees in Thailand may experience the feeling of greng-jai more than once during their assignment. Gren-jai is when you decide to do something yourself out of respect for another person because you know it would be an inconvenient task for them to handle. In the workplace, taking on a task because of greng-jai is a good way to build rapport with new coworkers and managers, and assignees may even find themselves recipients of some greng-jai-motivated help.

Hygge (Danish)

Similar to the Swedish lagom, hygge is another word that will be deeply ingrained in your assignees’ way of life abroad. Hygge is a Danish word that loosely translates to cozy. Whether that be the cozy feeling one gets having a lively conversation with friends by the fire or the feeling of reading a good book under a handknit blanket, hygge is almost a way of life for Danes, especially in the cold, dark winter. If your assignee is on their way to Denmark for assignment, they will likely experience this notion of hygge in their coffee meetings by candlelight, gatherings with coworkers and by themselves when they snuggle up with a mug of hvid gløgg (white mulled wine) every night.

Pochemuchka (Russian)

Assignees who get roped into a little “watercooler talk” at their new office may hear their fellow co-workers express disdain for the office pochemuchka. A pochemuchka is someone who asks incessant questions with no inclination of giving their vocal cords a break any time soon. While we believe there’s no such thing as a stupid question—especially for someone in a new culture who’s just getting the hang of things—assignees who want to avoid being that pochemuchka may want to tread lightly in their new home.

Learning new words is one of the most exciting parts about moving to a new culture. By learning some of these translations before your assignee departs, they will be much better equipped to impress their new coworkers and we’ll be much better prepared to fargin (or praise their successes, in Yiddish). For more information on language learning, take a look at our webinar on How Language and Culture-Learning Support Relocation.

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Lindsay Mullen
Written by Lindsay Mullen

Lindsay Mullen is CEO of Prosper Strategies, working behind the scenes to support the Mango team's world of lovable language learning. A language aficionado herself, Lindsay oversees a team of marketers fluent in public relations, content development and strategy (and they speak some German, French, Spanish and Chinese as well.)

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