All our customers speak English

by Translation Guy on January 3, 2010

Frank Pastormerlo, whose job is to prospect and qualify new clients for us in the medical device industry,  is still learning the ropes. He came into my office today in a state of shock.  “Is it true that everyone in the medical device industry speaks English?”

“No way.” I said, “It’s a global business. There’s plenty of people that don’t speak English. Where did you hear that?”

“I just got off the phone with this guy who said they didn’t need to translate because everyone in their business spoke English.”

I love moments like these, were I can kick back in my chair and start pontificating instead of working. (Frank didn’t seem quite so pleased since he had a lot more calls to make, but what the hell, I’m the boss, right?)

“Well, he only ever talks to people that speak English, because that’s the only language he speaks. And that’s probably true of everyone in his company.  All the people that don’t speak English avoid him and his friends as if they were football hooligans running towards them throwing bottles.”

Think about it. When was the last time you had a successful conversation with someone who didn’t speak the language you speak. If you were lucky you managed to find your way to the bathroom. But usually those cross-language encounters end with shrugs and sheepish smiles. Most of us live our lives in a bell jar of a single language, or if we are lucky one or two more, and outside of that it’s the dome of silence. All those opportunities for love and fortune, good times and bad, lie beyond the pale, even beyond our recognition.

“I can’t say that hooligan stuff!” Smart guy, Frank. He wants the close.

OK, I’ll teach you the Willy Brandt line, I’ll teach you how to say it in German!” If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann mussen Sie Deutsch sprechen

Frank’s expression becomes pained. “He’s not a sales guy. He does clinical trial stuff.”

Pause. “I think I’m just going to make more calls now.”


  1. International trade, communication and tourism have increased the need to break down language barriers. The common language is no excuse in today’s competitive, global marketplace.

  2. Surething says:

    Righto Ken, it’s time for governments, educators and the media to increase the exposure of foreign languages. The world market is only truly accessible to those who can communicate successfully in the different languages of the world.

  3. 1999 says:

    So why is it that so many university graduates have not yet been given the language skills necessary to function in a global marketplace?

  4. Cathy Love says:

    The future of any given society depends on the education of its youth. We must insist that language skills be given the importance they deserve to avoid that our children become second class citizens.

  5. NewYearMan says:

    Ahem, World News! How many Chinese speak French and vice versa? Moreover, IT graduates are successful: In today’s market, technology speaks louder than any one language.

  6. Dito says:

    Unfortunately, in the UK, the government is downgrading languages- they are no longer compulsory. In the UK, we are heading in the opposite direction.

  7. John Smith says:

    Visiting soon, does anyone know how the language barrier is in Japan?

  8. Fossilized says:

    If you mean for tourists, not much difficulty. You can get around alright, particularly in big cities like Tokyo (less so in rural areas, of course).

  9. Chuck says:

    Nowadays signs at train stations, etc. include English, and staff at information desks or stations can answer in English to some extent.

  10. Decrept says:

    Getting around is no problem. I would suggest deciding where you want to go, how you’re going to get there, and where you’re going to stay well in advance.

  11. Doug says:

    Tokyo may appear suprisingly gigantic unless you are from similar places. People in Japan are polite and help you in anyway they can but people like to move and walk fast. Tokyo consists of diverseness in people, languages, and cultures.

  12. Ziggy says:

    Tokyo is awesome!

  13. Mr. Sales says:

    Not much about Frank Pastormerlo online, he is in sales? Who is anyone in sales without being on LinkedIn, etc?

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