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Learning How to Overcome the Language Barrier

Cultural Differences

21 June, 2021

Chaim Abriv, Engineering Manager at Netflix, shows how his desire to understand the nuances of the culture that he was becoming a part of led to a successful start-up geared toward helping others do the same.

Problem

When I moved to the States, English was a barrier. The English that you learn in school is so different from English as it is spoken in a social sense. I was good at English. The English that you need to know in order to succeed with investors is very canned.

I remember it being very isolating at first. On my third night here, I went out to a pub in order to meet my first friend in San Francisco. I was giddy-excited thinking about who I would meet. Once you open your mouth and you start trying to talk to somebody, though, you find that what you’re saying doesn’t “hit”. It’s the difference between learning English and learning how to use English. That was sort of the problem.

Actions taken

We look at the language from a verticalized perspective. There’s business English, sports English, friendly English, and slang to consider. If you’re going to live in a place, you need to have at your command all of these different masteries. Those are your tools.

This was how I came up with the idea for my first successful start-up. I wanted to give people a tool that they would be able to have to become fluent. Ironically, I ran into the language barrier when trying to convey my mission to potential investors. Without real market indicators, we rely on our ability to evoke emotion in order to persuade. Seed funding has two pillars: one, do investors believe in you and like you, do they think that you can execute? And, two, do they relate to the problem?

I started pitching to everybody who would listen. I developed a sense for which words worked and which ones did not. Mastering a language is all about mastering the underlying culture.

Lessons learned

  • You never know when you’re going to meet the person who will fund your start-up. I ended up giving my first investor an Uber drive.
  • If you want to be seen as professional, there is a whole language to it. I always have an influx of new information coming in.
  • I chat with everybody. These connections happen all the time. You need to be persistent. Look at it from a product perspective. Your communication is a product that you’re trying to sell. What didn’t work, and why?

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