Sunday, October 18, 2015

Words Matter

There are endless articles about the challenge of working globally.  Dozens and dozens of stories about problems created due to cultural misunderstandings.  Websites that lists marketing horror stories based on incorrect use of language.   20 Epic Fails in Global Branding (

One has to ask how these major companies could make such a mistake.  Did they rely on Google translate, a colleague who spoke the languages but had no experience writing?    Moving from one language to another as a traveler has limited risks but in our global business where risks are high, trained professionals can make the difference.

But whom the professionals are that you need depends on what on more than just specific language. To decide which profession is qualified to help move from one language to another depends the answer to the question:  Are we talking about a written document or the spoken word (speech, meeting, conversation)?

For written material (documents, books, marketing slogans) look for a translator.  They have to understand not just the words but also the intent, the style of the writer and the topic of the document.  It’s one thing to translate a simple letter of introduction and another to work on a technical document explaining how to use a piece of equipment or legal agreement between multiple parties.  Looking for some help?    Check the website of the American Translators Association or the International Association of Translators and Interpreters ( 

As complicated as it can be to work with the written word, managing to move from one language to another as it is spoken presents another level of challenge. 
That’s when you need an interpreter. 

The United Nations, with its six official language, uses translators and interpreters.  The work of an interpreter is so challenging that they work in pairs, alternating in 15 – 20 minutes periods.

It isn’t just the just at UN meeting where interpreters are necessary.  Many business conferences have attendees speaking multiple languages.  Whether you are planning a conference or need an interpreter for a presentation you may find help through the AIIC – The International Association of Conference Interpreters (

If it’s a business meeting, a negotiation it is wise for each party to hire their own interpreter and to brief them well before the meeting. 

Words matter.  Spoken and written.  Be sure that the words you speak or write, the messages you want to convey make it through from one language to another.

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