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Sitting on the rooftop terrace of Siemens’ offices in Budapest, I asked President and CEO Dale A. Martin how useful it is for him as an executive that he speaks Hungarian. He should know, given that almost all of the 3,800 employees at Siemens Hungary are Hungarian.
Mr. Martin spoke basic Hungarian already at an early age, since three of his grandparents were Hungarian. However, it required quite an effort to reach a higher level – and the patience of his wife and sons, as well as his colleagues. Today, he mostly speaks Hungarian at work, while usually writing in German or English.

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It certainly does. Speaking Hungarian has at least two advantages, a practical and a “soft” one.
The practical advantage is to understand the local news and economic environment, to be able to understand and “feel” the conversations of employees without a translator, saving time and preventing misunderstandings.
The soft advantage is the ability to address Hungarians in their mother tongue. Since Hungarian is a difficult language, people often go the extra mile when you try to speak their language. This creates a positive atmosphere in the workplace.

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Once an employee noticed a serious issue that required action. However, he did not feel he could address the issue with his superior, who only spoke German and English. The lack of a mutual language and the resulting distance and divide prevented the employee from speaking up. Fortunately, I happened to talk to the employee and was able to deal with it.

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Both cultures have values that each should learn from. A strength of Hungarian working culture is an independent creativeness, while Germans tend to be more process-oriented. If you combine the Hungarian creativity with German “orderliness”, you can achieve excellent results.

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„Köszönöm szépen“ (“Thank you very much“) and „kérem szépen“ („please“) are expressions that executives in any country should know in the local language.

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