The dilemma of language in business

Rwanda has undergone several transformations since the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. A country that had been written off by many as another hopeless banana republic is now accustomed to getting positive reviews from all corners of the world.

Rwanda has undergone several transformations since the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. A country that had been written off by many as another hopeless banana republic is now accustomed to getting positive reviews from all corners of the world.

Many visitors to the country are instantly turned into ambassadors the moment they leave. They talk about the clean streets and so much transformation as compared to what they had in mind prior to their visits.

All the transformations the country has been going through have been aimed at correcting some of the things that were fatally amiss in the way things were done before 1994.

Due to the fact that many Rwandans had spent decades in exile as refugees, the government had to find ways of accommodating the returnees in a society that had rejected them.

The issue of language for example called for English being added to French and Kinyarwanda as the nation’s official languages. This in itself created a number of logistical problems for businesses now that almost all communications had to be translated into the three languages.

By and large, many businesses stuck with French and Kinyarwanda and many visitors from Anglophone countries had trouble while here. I have actually seen travel reviews for hotels where some of the positive remarks included, “Waiter can speak English.”

At the employment level, many businesses were compelled to employ bi-lingual workers who could speak English and French or increase their staff by employing a person who could speak English while the others could speak French.

When the government decided to prioritise the use of English in the school system things become a little trickier. Suddenly many French speaking employees were rushing for English language lessons. 

Furthermore, most of the communications were now being made in English and Kinyarwanda with French taking a back seat. Those able to offer translation services were in business.

The progress made by in addressing the challenges of language is commendable although more needs to be done. In a bid to change communications from French to English or Kinyarwanda to English, many make the mistake of making direct translations that end up not making much sense in the English language.

Grammatical rules are very crucial in a language and so when they are ignored during the translation process, then meaning is also lost.

To get the job right, companies need to employ the services of people comfortable with the language and not those who have taken a few English (adult) lessons.

Almost every day, I see business communications in English that are full of spelling and grammatical errors. I will not name companies but since these companies are only making an effort although not getting so right. Some companies have these errors on their company sign posts and other important documents or even advertisements.

My advice to companies is to take these communications serious and thus employ people who are fluent in the English language to do for them a decent job, otherwise the image of their businesses stands a credibility test each time confusing or unintelligible wording is used.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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