Dear Maik, you speak German as your native language and both English and Portuguese at a very high level. However, not everyone at Picalike does. Could you explain in more detail how the communication between the development teams works?
- Company-wide written documentation, for example, of tasks, technical details, problems and the like. In other words, everything that could be read now or in the future by any person and contains work-related information. This is all done in English.
- Written communication in the chat channel, which in our case is Slack. As long as the course of the communication is only relevant to the people writing to each other, and as long as all the people present in the channel can also use this language at a high skill level (B2 or more), the people involved are allowed to decide on the language used. Otherwise it is English.
- Meetings and real oral communication proceed in the same way as written chat communication. English is the default, unless everyone present speaks German or Portuguese at a high proficiency level.
What other moments are there when you have to choose a language? And how do you choose?
- In certain situations (mostly oral communication), it is possible to work purely on the receptive competencies. Linguistically proven and I think easy to understand for every foreign language learner is that the comprehension competence (reading/listening) is always higher orally and in writing than when performant (writing/speaking). Therefore, there are sometimes situations where we allow people to perform in their strongest performing language, if the comprehension skills of the conversation partners are high enough to follow a “native speaker”. This can compensate for deficits in competencies. With the help of an example, it becomes clearer: Person A speaks German very well, understands English well and Portuguese well. Person B speaks Portuguese very well, understands German well and little English. The best possible communication would then be that A speaks German and B Portuguese. And not what is often found in reality: Both speak English with each other, but have enormous communication problems.
- Whenever it is particularly difficult to understand each other or a topic is very sensitive, we have several people in the company who have a high level of proficiency in all three languages and can be asked to act as mediators/translators at any time. I myself am one of them. This helps the team a lot.
Employees are proficient in English at a wide range of levels. How does that work?
- The difference in language competence is so great that task- and problem-solving-oriented efficient communication is simply not possible.
- The difference is small, so that tasks/problems can be worked on together. But it is still large enough that the more linguistically competent person can often argue better than the other person due to his/her linguistic competence and therefore has an advantage in asserting him/herself that is not based on expertise.
- The difference is marginal and cases 1 and 2 do not occur. From now on, only pure personality and expertise count. And we all know that even that is not always easy.
Language is also a part of a culture. Do you also notice this in the communication within the company? Does a bit of wit sometimes get lost?
What are the benefits for the company of having multilingualism within the team?
- The first thing that always comes to mind is the concept of synergy. That is, the combination of individuals/teams that provides more than just additive value. This is made possible by people from different cultures working together. Because that always means: different ways of looking at tasks and problems, different working methods and, accordingly, a greater potential for solutions and progress in the company.
- And then there is also the constant search for suitable specialists or for personnel in general. If I don’t have to limit myself to just one country, then I have more options, or in some cases even any options at all.
- Last but not least, our employees feel at home in an international company precisely because they have the opportunity to work with people from other cultural backgrounds and also benefit personally from this exchange. This can bond a team and retain employees.