Today I found a whole slew of articles discussing language in the business world, primarily focusing on the challenges of engaging with customers around the world, or opening offices in multiple countries. Since I couldn’t pick just one topic to focus on, I thought I’d give links to them all (plus a semi-related bonus link at the end) with some commentary.
To start off, I found a press release about SDL’s Language Cloud, which as I understand it, offers companies a combination of “human, machine, and specialist machine (?) translation” services, so that they can connect with customers in the local language. I found this video on SDL’s site, which helped me better understand the goals of this new platform. At one point, the video mentions that not only was the website translated into the local language(s), product reviews were translated as well. And then I started wondering: there’s no mention of what this cloud platform does when it comes to translating things like idiomatic expressions. For things like website copy, it’s likely that the phrasing is run past a native speaker (at least, I’m assuming this would be done, otherwise you might end up with some amusing, yet technically correct phrases like some of those found here). But product reviews may not get this same treatment, and if you’ve ever used something like the “see translation” feature on a Facebook post, you know that the translations are sometimes confusing or unclear).
Next, I found some articles that talk about being an employee for a multi-national company. The first one is a somewhat basic argument for why it’s a good idea for relocating employees to learn the local language(s). They make a case for why it makes good business sense (along with simply being practical for daily living), as well as why employees might be resistant to learning a new language and what companies can do to encourage or reward those employees who do attempt to learn.
One of the reasons they give for why employees don’t learn the local language(s) is that they mistakenly believe that everyone speaks English. I wonder if this is primarily targeted at businesses that are moving from the U.S. to other countries. My own experiences traveling to European countries have taught me that many people don’t automatically assume that everyone they encounter speaks their language—they try the locally dominant language first (if they know it), and then any other language they can speak. Living on a continent with so much linguistic diversity will do that.
Finally, I found a blog post with tips for presenting in a foreign language (i.e. without an interpreter or translation software). I’ve had personal experience with this and I can honestly say it was one of the most nerve-racking times of my life, not because of the presentation, but because of the Q&A afterwards. I was lucky that I was able to choose the presentation topic, which meant I would probably know the answers to any questions, and I simply had to focus on understand the question itself, to be able to answer it successfully. Still, I agree with the suggestions put forth by the blog, and would only add that sometimes it’s best to act confident and “fake it ‘til you make it.”
[As promised, here’s the bonus link, which I liked because it talks about reframing how you think about your business—from mentally referring to your company a verb rather than a noun—can help you appreciate its complexity and ever-changing nature]