I’m always embarrassed by my inability to speak another language, having never really progressed beyond my schoolboy French and Spanish. I’m frequently humbled by clients and friends around the world whose command of English and desire to learn more puts me to shame. I guess it’s one of the disadvantages of being a native speaker of the world’s accepted business language; it has led to linguistic laziness. When we think about the field of knowledge and knowledge management, the English language has particular limitations. The verb “to know” has to be stretched in a number of directions, and masks some important distinctions that other languages make.
Whilst the English know things, know facts, know people, know what just happened and know their onions – our neighbours in France and Spain separate knowing into two areas:
Connaitre/Conocer: These are used ot express knowledge about something or someone where we have some experience with the thing (or person). You can know, or be acquainted with, a book, a movie, a place, or a person.
Savoir/Saber: These are used to talk about learned skills. You can know how to swim, draw, speak a language, etc. It is also used to ask about knowing about something, or knowing something by memory.
Think about it for a moment – who would you rather get travel advice from: someone who knows about Madrid, or someone who is acquainted with Madrid?
The conversations would be so different wouldn’t they? One is more transactional – almost a Google search. The other feels more like it would be a dialogue – a relational conversation.
It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s a powerful one and one which needs to be embedded in our approach to managing knowledge holistically. We need to address conocer and caber, and find ways to bring them together.
Interestingly, in my research for this post, I discovered that in Spanish, there are cases where conocer and saber are used interchangeably:
When you are expressing the fact of having knowledge or ideas about a subject or science, either saber or conocer is acceptable. It is also acceptable to use either saber or conocer to express the finding out of new information or news
Where is the best place to bring together knowledge, ideas, new information and news about a subject? Well, a community of practice or a network seems like a good place to start. If this sounds familiar, and you’re a reader of “Learning to Fly” with a good memory, then it should do!
So I guess we knew about this all along - we just weren't fully acquainted with it.