When your national language is just another language.
Another example - this one in Hong Kong. Employees of a Hong Kong-based, US, owned bank were talking about an opportunity they had to acquire an important Taiwanese account. However, knowledge of Chinese was paramount in the negotiations. One young man, a recent employee, let it be known that he spoke Chinese and had learned business Chinese while studying in the United States. Subsequently assigned to the negotiations, the young man's knowledge of Chinese language and culture made the difference. The account was secured and he received a bonus. As a story in the Christian Science Monitor noted several years ago, "You can buy all the Hondas you want in the United States without knowing Japanese, but try to sell Buicks in Japan without the language and a knowledge of the culture." It just doesn't work.
Recently a major US pharmaceutical company expressed interest in expanding its business into Eastern Europe. But, they realized, they had no one who understood the European-let alone the Eastern European-market in their international department. And the only language capability anyone had-other than English-was a little Spanish.
Traditionally, few companies have placed much value on employees with a second language and experience living in another nation. That situation is changing. Today the MBA with real international experience is in increasing demand, and more schools are beginning to internationalize by building an understanding of the language and culture of other nations into their curriculum. Survivors in a Changing World Everyone who has conducted international business or diplomatic negotiations recognizes the importance of understanding the person across the table. Further, they know that accuracy is vital. An inappropriate word here, a misinterpretation there, a wrong assumption, can ruin a carefully developed relationship.
This is especially important to business communicators. When a firm needs to communicate with its employees, its customers or clients, its vendors and suppliers, it is important to know enough about the culture and the language of the message recipient to avoid misunderstandings.
Public relations practitioner Philip. Lesly, in his book, "How We Discommunicate" (published by AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association), cites many pertinent examples of how communicators misstate information and present it in ways which create misunderstandings.
"We take for granted the imprecision of communication. In fact, a speaker who selects his words and phrases carefully often is considered pompous and pedantic. Strong feelings arise against the elitism of careful expression which can lead to some of the worst instances of discommunication, such as the quite content-less utterings of the 'You know .I feel like .you get what I mean?' variety."
Dealing in an international community, getting your message across correctly increases in importance. Lesly cites an example by author Stuart Chase:
"A Japanese word, mokusatsu, may have changed all our lives. It has two meanings: (1) to ignore, (2) to refrain from comment. The release of a press statement using the second meaning, in july, 1945 might have ended the war (World War 11) then. The Emperor was ready to end it, and had the power to do so. The cabinet was ready to accede to the Potsdam ultimatum of the Allies-surrender or be crushed-but wanted a little more time to discuss the terms. A press release was prepared announcing the policy of mokusatsu, with the no comment interpretation. But it got on the foreign wires with the ignores interpretation through a mix-up in translation: The cabinet ignores the demand to surrender.
To recall the release would have entailed an unthinkable loss of face. Had the intended meaning been publicized, the cabinet might have backed up the Emperor's decision to surrender. In which event, there might have been no atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tens and thousands of.Japanese might have been saved. One word, misinterpreted." Importance of Foreign Language, Culture To be effective communicators in an increasingly global society, we must be keenly aware of the formal status between the person or institution speaking and the people receiving the message, written or oral. This means understanding not just the language, but also the culture.
David Thompson, in his book, "Language," notes, "The language that a man (or woman) speaks governs his view of reality; it determines his perception of the world. The picture of the universe shifts from tongue to tongue." Thompson is correct. And business communicators must recognize this and keep it in mind as they advise management or clients on public statements and international interactions.
In crafting communication, whether within your native country or to other nations, the potential for misunderstanding must be avoided. Many people do not understand slang and euphemisms, or tend to overstate or use jargon (bureaucratic or otherwise) that's commonly used in a country other than their own.
Companies large and small are increasing their search for employees with multi-language and culture skills and experience. Many now hire skilled interpreters and translators. Translators decipher complex documents, often relating to trade negotiations or regulations. Interpreters apply their skills when foreign guests visit, or during phone conversations. Language Resources Available Other organizations are sending middle and upper-management people to school or bringing instructors to them to teach one or more foreign languages. In California, for instance, the Monterey Institute of international Studies, a language-based graduate school of international affairs, which grants degrees in business as well as policy studies, formed a Center for Language Services. This unit provides highly trained, skilled interpreters and translators and, at the same time, provides teachers to educate people in small groups.
The school's in-house Training for Service Abroad program, which offers one-on-one training in up to 40 languages, has provided language/ culture training for people from many of the US' largest businesses and for many representatives of the news media. Graduates include the Newsweek bureau chief in Warsaw, the ABC TV representative in Moscow, The New York Times bureau chief in Tokyo and more than 10 Los Angeles Times staffers.
While many services are available to provide language training, and many are reputable, beware of those that promise to have you speaking a language in just 10 minutes a day or to have you fluent by providing three easy cassettes. It just doesn't work that way.
Intense schooling usually is required over a period of weeks or months for language training to work. According to a US businessman who studied Japanese for six weeks at the Monterey Institute's Training for Service Abroad program, "It was tough, but it was worth it. I will have to continue my studies in Japan, but the ground work I got made me feel very confident." Professionals versus Amateurs Wilhelm Weber, president of the international Association of Schools of Translation and Interpretation, and dean of Monterey Institute's Translation and Interpretation Division, offers another warning:
"People should know there is a huge difference between someone who speaks and understands two languages and someone who will serve as an interpreter in sensitive negotiations or business dealings. The difference is similar to that between an amateur and a professional. If you need an interpreter, find one who knows the subject matter and who understands both the nuances and the stresses and strains of interpretation.
"Avoid the once and never again syndrome,"' Weber cautions. "This happens after a bad experience with mediocre interpreters because the organizers didn't know where to find good ones. Worse, they automatically took the lowest bidder without realizing the saying, You get what you pay for.'
"Under no circumstances should the interpretation be entrusted to an inexperienced person-and under no circumstances to firms that rent equipment, to translation agencies, language schools, or to foreign language departments at universities, unless the latter have an accredited training program for conference interpreters, and a teaching staff of practicing interpreters with an excellent track record."
The yellow pages of most major cities have numerous ads for a variety of language services. Some, like Berlitz, are well known and offer a variety of languages and specialties. Some may be one-person shops with questionable credentials and histories. Others have been in business for years and have a distinguished record and a long list of satisfied clients. It is up to you to differentiate between the qualified and the unqualified. Knowing What to Look for What kind of questions should a business person ask when seeking someone who has language skills or who can provide language training?
When considering translation and interpretation needs, whether hiring a full-time employee or someone from outside to help with a particular task, here are some questions: * What was the nature and purpose of the individual's training? * What is the intended use of the individual within the firm? * Is this need permanent or periodic? * What are the credentials and the track record of the school or individual providing the service? (learning French literature versus business French makes a significant difference.) * How have they used their language skills? * Have they lived and/or worked in the country whose language they have? * What kind of references can they provide? * What kind of training did their teachers receive? * What are the going rates for such services from qualified individuals?
In the same vein, if your company is considering providing language training for one or more employees, here are some questions to ask: * What is the purpose of the education? * How long can the employee be spared for such training? *What are the pros and cons of having training off-site versus at your place of business? * Can the organization supplying the training provide specialized language related to the person's needs? * What other organizations have used this service? * Are they willing to provide references?
Whether your company is concerned with how it communicates with foreign nationals in a new world order, or is in a position to influence the hiring of a professional language service or individual, knowledge of the language and customs of others is essential. David McIntyre is VP, external relations, Monterey Institute of Graduate Studies, Monterey, Calif.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article on a universal digital code for computers; international communication|
|Author:||McIntyre, David J.|
|Date:||May 1, 1991|
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