Cross-cultural businesses negotiations can be fraught with difficulty. Culture and language barriers pose one of the biggest hurdles a company approaching foreign markets must overcome.
Although English is regarded as the ‘Language of the corporate world,’ this doesn’t necessarily mean business negotiations conducted by UK companies with foreign nationals will run smoothly. Negotiating with foreign counterparts who only speak English as a second language can create issues that could easily be avoided with the help of translation agencies.
A professional language translation services provider (TSP) will be able to help in avoiding misunderstandings that could lead to a dispute further down the line. If both parties leave the meeting room with two different ideas, a likely outcome will be a breakdown in relations and a collapse of a potentially lucrative contract. When conducting business in a second language, a number of problems can arise. Subtle nuances can be missed easily and words can have different connotations through the tone of voice, different accents or dialects.
The role of interpreters in business transactions
Language interpreters assist cross-cultural communication in face-to-face meetings, video conferences, interviews and visits to business environments. Essentially, interpreters handle verbal negotiations whilst translators take care of the written communications.
Interpreters have to be proficient in both languages to ensure there are no misunderstandings between the two parties. It is also important for interpreters to understand the culture of both representatives. Body language and hand gestures are not always universal.
When looking for an interpreter, it’s always a good idea to hire a professional linguist who understands the nature of your business. Every industry has specific aspects and terminology that requires clear communication.
For example, if the interpreter does not know what a certain machine is used for, they will not be able to effectively explain how your products or services can benefit a potential client or business associate. The participants of a meeting at any level have personal goals so it is important for points of view to be made clear and for any sector specific terminology to be translated/interpreted as accurately and reliably as possible.
Interpreters can also advise both parties of the next steps to take in the event that an agreement is reached. When large sums of money are involved in business negotiations, it is typical for social events to be arranged between the parties. And social occasions have an entirely different dynamic.
The dangers of not using a professional language interpreter
You will find that it is in social situations interpreters are a major asset to your negotiation team. They will understand the culture of your counterparts and can advise you how to behave, in both, business as well as social terms.
There are alternative options of course. Instead of working with an experienced and professional interpreter, you could, for example, embrace translation technology such as Google’s new Bluetooth gadget, pixel buds. The innovative device may enable you to have a conversation in “real-time”, but you will still experience a delay waiting for AI to translate the words.
However, the biggest problem with translation machines is they are predominately useful for basic conversation, and even then can miss the mark, not to mention helping you with social customs and business etiquette. The machine translation’s attempts to “change the world” is more likely to put a dent in your business aspirations.
Fraud should also be safeguarded against. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), fraud occurs every day in all parts of the world. A report published in 2014, revealed that the industries most at risk of business fraud are banking/investment, government and public administration, manufacturing, real estate, mining, oil and gas. But wherever there is an opportunity for people to make money, there is a risk of corruption.
A website offering advice on business ethics, claims the gravest underlying factor of business fraud is culture. The ACFE estimate around $3.7 trillion dollars go missing each year due to fraudulent activity and asset misappropriation is the most used tactic.
International businesses and businesses expanding their presence abroad should be aware that fraud is common in some markets. It is therefore pertinent to develop anti-fraud strategies to ensure you are not a victim or a perpetrator. Although there is not a universal approach to combating fraud, professional interpreters play a vital role in identifying potential risks.
What should you expect from business interpreters and translators?
Business interpreters give both parties the opportunity to present their goals and points of view in a clear and precise manner. With a smooth flow of communication, both sides can communicate more comfortably and create a productive environment.
The only drawback is if the interpreter does all the interacting, it does not give business associates an opportunity to build a relationship of their own. It is therefore important to attempt to communicate with your associates, or at the very last talk to them as if they do understand what you are saying. A linguist will be on hand to make clarifications rather than be used as a medium simply to channel information.
In a business setting, interpreters will typically use consecutive translations whereby each party has their own linguist. This ensures the interests of both parties are protected without a conflict of interest and misunderstandings can be cleared up between two interpreters that are each native to their client’s language and culture.
A professional interpreter will respect and value your authority. But in turn you should also value the assets skilled linguists can bring to your negotiation team. In lengthy negotiations, you may have to spend a lot of time in their company so it is important that everybody gets along.
What type of interpreters are there?
Regardless of the industry you are involved in, hiring a linguist that is specialised in your field of business can make a significant difference. This is particularly important when there are specific terminologies, rules and conditions that will impact negotiations.
Specialised business interpreters
There are various fields of business that require specialist knowledge. Economics, financial markets, engineering, architecture and manufacturing are all common examples. If your line of work requires specialist knowledge, make sure you work with an interpreter who fully understands your sector and has first-hand knowledge about it.
When you are negotiating business dealings overseas, it is important to understand the legal implications that are enforced by the government of the country you intend to have business relations with.
In such circumstances, you should hire a native linguist who speaks a high level of English. If your linguist is a non-native, they should be familiar with legal terms so they can understand advice given to them by the legal team you hire to handle your business affairs in the country you intend to trade in.
Medical interpreters help medical staff to communicate with patients. Understanding medical terminology in many cases can be a truly crucial aspect. It is also necessary for medical interpreters to have a cultural understanding of patients in case their religious or personal beliefs reject the treatment prescribed to them by doctors. In London alone, the need for such medical professionals has significantly grown in the recent years. There are number of locally based practitioners from a number of different medical sectors; from dentists in Acton to private urologists in Berkshire and Windsor or even larger, NHS and private hospitals which now work with such professionals in order to provide the highest standards to medical treatments to their patients and ensuring their safety.
Should you want to attend a conference or exhibition that is being held in a foreign language, the help of an interpreter could prove critical. In such environments, interpreters can also act as mediators between foreign nationals so you are able to network and identify potential opportunities that could help your business adventure in an overseas market.
A note to interpreters
If you are new to the language translation profession, or contemplating becoming an interpreter, keep reading. Below are a few tips that will help you nurture your role as an interpreter and protect the interests of your clients.
First of all, keep it simple. Don’t try showing off by overusing sophisticated language as this can make you come across as arrogant and perhaps even unprofessional. Remember that your performance could reflect back on your client, so use accurate language translations and limit the chance of any misunderstanding occurring.
Furthermore, don’t speak too quickly or use language that is colloquial as this can sometimes be taken as an insult and you may alienate your counterpart, particularly in cultures that are sensitive to paying respect to elders. If you have to repeat yourself, you could appear incompetent and cause your employer to lose faith in your ability to act as an interpreter.
On the other hand, you should demonstrate that you are completely fluent not only in both languages, but also fully understand the different cultures, the differences and similarities between them. This will impress your client’s business associates and can assist with a positive outcome for your client. Foreigners are often impressed when people can speak their language to a good standard and it helps with forging a bond between you, your client and their associates.