Redefining Brand You in a New Language and Culture


30x30x30 Blogathon Post #9:  June 9th – Gabby Wallace

Day 9 of the Personal Branding Blogathon is all about redefining your personal brand in a second language and culture. Gabby Wallace is an expert language teaching professional who firmly believes in learning and using natural English in natural settings. She founded Go Natural English and frequently posts free video lessons. Gabby empowers her learners to use a new language to multiply their potential.

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One of the most enjoyable parts of learning a new language is that it gives us the opportunity to redefine ourselves. First we discover the difficulty of directly translating some phrases and cultural norms from our first language. Then we learn new phrases and the new culture that goes with them. Then, we must choose how to express ourselves so that our personal brands make sense in our new sociolinguistic environment.

“Learning a new language gives a new dimension to how we can express our brand.” Tweet This!


Simple Words & Phrases Define Your Brand in Another Language

When I lived in Japan, I became aware of different verb choices for expressing respect, formality, or friendship and informality. Although the levels of formality contained in verb conjugations are specific to Japanese, every language has a way of expressing different levels of respect and formality. For an example, let’s look at greetings in English. Many English learners prefer to stick with the tried-and-true “How are you? I am fine, thank you and you.” This is textbook language, and appears too stiff and boring for all but the most formal situations. It is more common to say, “How’s it going? (It’s going) good, you?”

And if you are in an inner-city area like Harlem, New York City, you might find it comfortable to say, “What’s up? Not much.” But you probably wouldn’t say that in Texas, where you might be more likely to hear, “Howdy, folks.” These are contextual and regional differences. Finding the right fit may feel like the traditional story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Observe and then try out some different phrases for yourself.

Additionally, I learned that only men should say “boku” in Japanese to refer to themselves, whereas women can say, “watashi.” Although in English we have the gender-equal “I” to refer to oneself, we can choose vocabulary, grammar and non-verbal communication to express gender.

English is so gender-equal that “guys” can always include women. An example of a typical masculine word is “dude,” which is typically used by men and directed toward another man. On the other hand, feminine speech is peppered with more questions (Don’t you think so?), an upward intonation at the end of sentences that are not questions, and adjectives like “cute!” Also, in the US, it is more feminine to use non-verbal communication such as eye-contact and, in informal situations, a brief touch on the arm. These are ways of expressing interest in having a conversation with a person, but not necessarily a romantic interest.

How Your Brand Translates Across Cultures

Maybe the most interesting part of learning a new language is figuring out how your personal brand best translates in a new culture. For example, the word “assertive” may not be part of your personal brand. Given that being assertive relates to taking action as an individual (not necessarily as a team), individualistic Americans may perceive this attribute as positive.

On the other hand, typically group-oriented Japanese may perceive this attribute as negative. From my experience working both in companies in Japan and with Asian professionals in the US, I would advise that a group-oriented person could start to show assertiveness in a way that Americans would perceive as positive by actively starting conversations with colleagues and with supervisors. First, ask for others’ help and opinions. Then, try introducing your own unique skills and opinions.

Learning a New Language Multiplies Our Potential

As you discover a new language and culture, you will have a wonderful opportunity to express your personal brand in a new way.

At first it might be disappointing that we can’t simply input a first language and culture into a translation machine, click “go” and get something that makes any sense at all in a second language and culture. This point could be a whole new blog post. But trust me: As much as we might like, online translators can not account for the differences between formal and informal, masculine and feminine, and social or regional contexts. That is the beauty of expressing oneself using more than one language: your choice can not be directly exchanged one phrase for another. Instead, we are left with many new options that multiply our potential to express and market our personal brands.


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About the author

Gabby Wallace Gabby Wallace, founder of Go Natural English, is an educational entrepreneur and experienced English Language Trainer. Go Natural English offers online video and 1-to-1 language instruction with a focus on natural communication and cultural understanding for international professionals to grow their confidence and advance their skills. She was a Corporate English Trainer in Osaka and currently is based in Boston where she also teaches university ESL courses on American Culture.