Working Between Languages to Improve the Food System
Agromovil’s goal has always been to expand worldwide and make our platform available to whomever wants to use it. In a conversation with the Colombian-based Field Operations Manager, Grace Tellez, and Data Analytics Manager, Andres Esquivel (Memo), we explore the implications of being a global company and working between languages, both within our team and on our platform. The following conversation has been translated so that it is accessible to both English and Spanish speakers, but what can’t be captured in this text is what is perhaps reflective of how we interact at Agromovil: with conversation that flows between languages.
Parker Richardson: “So what is it like to work for a bilingual company? In what situations do you speak Spanish and en qué situaciones hablan inglés?”
Grace (originally in Spanish): “I think I’ll respond in Spanish and you (Memo) in English so that we have both versions.”
Memo: “Bueno, si.”
Grace: “I felt like it has been a very good experience, very positive for me because I can practice a language that isn’t my native one. So it’s been very useful. Normally, we use Spanish for all the operations here in Colombia, with the farmers and the buyers, and English is used a little more with other businesses … Andrew has some business in other countries, for example some in Africa, that require that we speak English because it’s the only language that both sides understand.”
Memo: “Well, from my experience, I think it’s great because I get to practice English as well. Most of the work here is done in Spanish, so I don’t get to practice that much here in the daily operations. When we talk with Andrew or some members of the team, we have to talk in English. You get to practice that, and I think it’s great. In terms of the work, it’s something you have to have a look at because if you forget that you’re working with people from the United States, we sometimes use words just in Spanish and then we have to share those with people who do not speak Spanish at all. So even the work we’re doing in Colombia, we’re doing it in English because we need that work worldwide. Basically, it’s great, and I like it more than just Spanish work.”
In reflecting on the advantages of working between languages, Grace said, “It (Agromovil) is a global platform. It serves a lot of people, and it’s scalable.” She went on to point out that there are also challenges to overcome: accounting for different languages in the software so that the interface can be accessible to different populations.
Memo expanded on the complications of incorporating differences in languages on the platform: “This project, Agromovil, has a special challenge, and it’s that almost all the products have different names in different places. Not only between languages, but also between countries.” In some countries in Latin America, sweet stone fruits are duraznos, and in others, they are melocotones. In the United States, they are peaches. These variations are an important factor to consider in making Agromovil a platform that is accessible worldwide.
Memo explores to users how to use the platform.
As Agromovil grows, we will continue to account for more languages and cultures. Memo emphasized the importance of working with the community and speaking in a language that the users can understand, “Each time we go into a new country or a new part of the country, we have to consider these changes into the language and the way they refer to each product … In terms of growing, we have to find a process or algorithm to keep this process simple for us. Maybe we can find out how to do this when we reach a new place and go through all the products and find the local names and add them to the database. We could get someone from the place we’re going and make them a local part of the team.”
Within the Agromovil team, we navigate the differences between languages. Grace shared how culture influences how we interpret ideas and interactions in her experience: “The latinoamerican mentality is a little different than the northamerican one. So, sometimes, we understand each other differently. For example, we talk like this, we talk hard, we talk fast, whereas you [the English speakers] speak more calmly, more like friends, more like this. You can see a difference in how everyone understands what you’re communicating.”
Interacting within a team with different native languages inevitably leads to some complications, but in these interactions, meaning is gained, even multiplied. Grace described the space between languages: “I tried to be a bridge, a canal between both parts because Memo and I help with the businesses here. So with the software company and other companies, he and I represent Agromovil and communicate to Andrew and the team that speaks English. So, we are a point in the middle because we understand the mentality of both sides.” As a team, we encounter the multiplicity and endless potential of working across multiple languages and cultures. This is absolutely necessary in collaborating with and supporting farmers and communities around the world. This allows Agromovil to provide more visibility to farmers in the countryside by helping them raise their voices and increase conversations with potential buyers.
Working between languages within the company allows the Agromovil team to think dynamically and adapt to the needs of our users. Grace said, “I think it's a challenge, but that’s the idea of this company. I think that we have ... to think dynamically because it allows us to scale up ... We have to establish in terms of software a dynamic way of addressing the needs of each country. This is how we were thinking about it from the start, but it’s something we have to continue working on more because it is truly a challenge.”
Memo concluded, “In terms of culture, not only between Colombia and the USA, if we work worldwide, there are a lot of cultures and different ways to do things. You have to find out which is ... the practice that everyone shares ... I think it’s great to be thinking worldwide...That’s the biggest advantage we have.”
Communications & Grants Intern