Overseas Manufacturing: Deep Six The English?

How many of you know what “deep six” means? How many of you have used equally difficult to comprehend slang/words when emailing with your overseas manufacturer? How many times has your overseas manufacturer emailed you back to seek clarification of such words or of anything at all? I’m betting not often.

I recently had a great conversation with one of my law firm’s savviest international manufacturing clients. This is a person/company who has been engaged in international manufacturing for more than twenty years. I asked him how things were going and he launched into how he was now communicating with his Chinese manufacturers only in Chinese and with his Thai manufacturers only in Thai and with his Mexican manufacturers only in Spanish and that doing so had immediately led to all sorts of improvements. He said that he had made the switch after realizing that so many of the problems he had been having with his suppliers were due to “silly miscommunications.” He said the last straw (there I go again with the slang) was when one of his Chinese suppliers confused “June” for “July” and delivered product a month late.

He now pays US-based professional translators (the same ones every time) to translate everything he sends to his manufacturers, including (and especially) all emails and all Purchase Orders. All of his company’s manufacturing agreements were already dual language contracts (English and the native languages of the various countries in which his company does its manufacturing).

For why it makes sense to have the official language of your China Manufacturing Agreements be in Chinese, check out China Manufacturing Agreements. Why Ours Are In Chinese. Flat Out (there I went again with the slang — flat out). Our international manufacturing lawyers almost always draft the manufacturing agreements with Chinese suppliers in Chinese, but choosing the appropriate language can be considerably more complicated for other countries, especially because in some countries, the language of the contract automatically determines the language of any arbitration.

What he kept telling me is how much more often he is now communicating with his manufacturers and how much more often his manufacturers are writing back seeking clarification. I said that I thought it interesting that his manufacturers were seeking clarifications more often now that he was communicating with them in their native language as opposed to just in English. He thinks this is because they had previously been too embarrassed to seek clarifications because that would be to admit that their English was not very good. He also thinks (and I agree) that there are a whole slew of mediocre translators in China and in Thailand and in Mexico who will give their bosses a bad translation rather than admit that they do not understand the English. This means that the manufacturer only sees a watered down translation of what you are sending them and therefore never knows exactly what you are seeking to tell them. Ponder this for a moment.

Interesting idea communicating with your overseas manufacturers just in the manufacturer’s native language. I like it.

What do you all think?