When you dream of building a global business, you rarely consider that the details of this dream are framed from your own perspective and written in your own language. While English is widely used in the business world, certain things can still be lost in translation.
The meaning of a message in your own head that is so critical for successfully negotiating a business deal, for example, or managing a local sales force, may not be received the same way by the person across the table. Often your partners or employees will feel more comfortable using their own language to communicate important issues. If you conduct business in English only, you may not learn that your partner did not understand you until something does not turn out as expected. If you find yourself needing to cross language borders in order to conduct business, how do you proceed?
Language is socially constructed and therefore embedded in our culture. Understanding embedded meanings requires mastering the language, a process that can be extremely time consuming and difficult. Misinterpreting words or the cultural meaning associated with them may negatively affect the entire interchange. In the case of business, it may be a deal breaker. In this situation, a good interpreter can become a major asset. They may even construct bridges and open doors that would not be opened to an outsider—or at least that could not be opened without a great deal of effort, pain, and time.
Once the exclusive purview of presidents and royalty, professional interpreters are available to anyone today seeking to broaden global opportunities. Corporate leaders operating in an increasingly globally focused economy can learn a lot from interpreters—not only as conduits for business but as experts in upholding the highest standards while navigating the intricacies of language, meaning, and human nature.
Ideally, the interpreter should have extensive experience using both languages in similar business deals. It is critical that the interpreter has an immediate and deep understanding of the potential business partner’s message. The interpreter needs to be able to correctly translate the meaning, not simply the words. Simply put, interpreters use their experience, memory, and quick reflexes to preserve the original meaning of a conversation, while rephrasing idioms, colloquialisms, and other culturally specific references in ways that both parties understand.
During critical business communications, a combination of competence in the language and human intuition is required to assess the reaction of the other parties and to assist, if necessary, in clarifying hidden implications and potential misconceptions. The intonations and wording of responses may give important clues as to implied meaning, as well as body language. The sincerity and genuineness of a response may be evaluated more accurately from subtle inflections of words than from the words themselves. A good interpreter can help read these intonations and steer the conversation accordingly. They can convey emphasis either during the translation or through supplementary comments to help you absorb the meaning behind the words.
While there is a comfort level in staying within your own language and cultural parameters, you may miss some wonderful and profitable opportunities if you do so. In this global economy, opportunities often exist worldwide—even for smaller businesses. Be prepared to move beyond the comfortable environment of your known world. Why leave things open to interpretation when, in fact, working through a good interpreter can be a business asset, making your dream of global expansion a reality? Do not let success get lost in translation.
Fardad Zabetian, a visionary entrepreneur, technologist, and communication disruptor, is founder and CEO of KUDO Inc., a SaaS platform that democratizes real-time language interpretation for web meetings, live conferences, and global business interactions.