From the Editor
Welcome to the December edition of Language Lines!
Tucked between Thanksgiving turkey and December’s holiday festivities, the new issue of Language Lines is full of useful information and links for your company. Our feature subjects for December are “India’s Language Landscape,” “Language and Business: An Inextricable Link,” and a glimpse of how to use names and titles correctly in international business.
Our news section shares advice from a top international newspaper about finding the right translator for the right job and, for those of you who like looking into a crystal ball, reveals the top business trends for 2007. We finish by explaining why many Indian cities, including Bangalore, are changing names.
In our next issue, we will examine the challenges and advantages of trade with the USA’s closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico.
As always, we would be pleased to receive any comments, questions and story ideas at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
II. This Month's Features:
Not that long ago, India’s economy was based on exporting tea and cotton. Now the country has become a major player in the global economy, and with over a billion inhabitants, the nation represents a huge potential customer base. But what languages can your company use when doing business in India?
Many people assume that English is widely spoken in India, but few Indians can claim it as their mother tongue. In fact, Hindi is India’s most widely spoken native language, yet English remains– for the moment, at least -- the primary language for national, political, and commercial communication. And there’s much more to India’s linguistic environment than just Hindi and English: one can hear a total of 22 official languages, 800 other languages and 2000 dialects in the country!
Clearly, India’s language landscape is one of the world’s most complicated. Rest assured: many Indian businesspeople speak excellent international English, and if you visit India you will also surely be able to get by in tourist areas. However, don’t count on English alone to reach Indian consumers. The use of Hindi, the country’s most widely spoken native language, is being encouraged by the government, so translation and localization of business documents or websites into Hindi – or other official languages, depending on the region – can be a big plus for your company.
What’s the most important key to business success? Marketing strategy? Hiring the right employees? Financial management? None of the above, according to Michael Kapek of New York University’s Stern School of Business. The secret is language.
“Business is analyzed and talked about in language, business takes place in language, and virtually all breakdowns in business are either breakdowns in communication or are accompanied by breakdowns in communication. Recognizing this seemingly innocuous presumption is important because it enables a different conversation about business and business problems. And it leads us to the conclusion that the very language we use can profoundly influence outcomes,” wrote Kapek in a fascinating article culled from the 2000 archives of the school’s journal, STERNbusiness. And his words ring even truer today than six years ago.
Although Kapek’s academic text deals with language in general, we can easily apply his principles to the use of foreign languages in business. It’s too easy to assume that English has become the international business language, and that using it is enough. But if communication failures occur mainly because of language problems – even when two people speak the same mother tongue – imagine how these difficulties are magnified if the parties don’t even speak the same native language. That’s why effective communication, translation, and localization remain the most important business tools available to a company.
Americans are famous for being big on first names, even in business situations. In fact, seeing employees and managers use first names up and down a company’s hierarchical structure often strikes businesspeople from other cultures as very informal, or even downright disrespectful. A good rule of thumb – even on home turf – would be to stick with Mr. or Ms. and the last name until invited to do otherwise.
However, the USA is not the only place where businesspeople move quickly to a first name basis. In Canada, Great Britain and the Netherlands, your business contacts may also call you by your first name after the initial introduction. In most European countries, though, using titles and last names is standard in business: don’t be surprised to be called “Mr.” or “Ms.” even after years of a good business relationship in France or Germany.
In most of Asia, first names are reserved for family and close friends, so to show a minimum of respect, you must use – at least – Mr. or Ms.. Some Asian countries employ a number of honorific titles, which require specific study depending on the country in which you are doing business.
In South America, Brazilians tend to move rapidly to a first-name basis, whereas in Argentina or Columbia, first names indicate a closer relationship. And some Spanish titles may surprise you – in Argentina, both physicians and lawyers are addressed as “doctor,” plus their last name.
Our article gives only the broadest idea of a few ways people of different nationalities use names and titles to address people with respect. Before doing business in a particular country, take the time to learn what the conventions are. Our “Related Links” section will help you research this and other cultural differences that can come up in international business communication.
In the news
International Herald Tribune writer Sharon Reier tells readers what translation agencies have known all along: the choice of a translator is vital for any language project, and qualified translation agencies can be a great help in finding the right person for your job. Her November 24th article entitled “A word to the wise: Choose the right translator,” emphasizes that “translation still requires the human touch.” Her story of a French engineering professor who bought expensive computer software to translate a French text into English, then worked every day all summer to correct the errors, will take away any doubt you might have on that question!
As Reier points out, computerized translations are only useful for “gisting;” that is finding the parts of a document that could be of potential interest to you – if translated correctly. And don’t think you will necessarily find the true “gist,” or overall meaning, of an article with computer translation software or Internet translation services. For the moment, only humans possess the capacity to interpret and synthesize an author’s intent.
Reier also raises an interesting point about selecting an appropriate translator. “Since clients are not generally fluent in the language of the translation,” she writes, “it is far harder to judge quality.” That’s why she concludes that a translation agency can be useful for businesses, since qualified language service companies test their translators, deliver a final product that has been copy edited and proofread, and are willing to follow up on any questions the client may have – which is exactly how we work at Language Translation Inc.
Globalization in small companies is among the top business trends for 2007, according to Vistage International, the world’s largest CEO organization. "The global economy is increasingly being fueled by small businesses," said Rafael Pastor, Vistage CEO and Chairman of the Board. "In 2007, more small businesses will not only experiment with global opportunities, but significant percentages of their growth and ability to compete will depend upon it." In 2006, two-thirds of Vistage members polled were conducting some business outside of the U.S., with Canada, Europe, Mexico and China topping the list of the most popular markets.
Other trends identified in the poll of Vistage members included increased acquisitions and mergers involving businesses in the $50 - $100 million range and workplace culture clashes between baby Boomer executives and their younger “Gen Y” employees.
Bangalore, India’s high-tech capital, recently changed its name to Bengaluru. Following the lead of Bombay and Calcutta -- now Mumbai and Kolkata -- local politicians have chosen to revert to the city’s pre-colonial, non-anglicized name. The modification has yet to be approved by the federal government.
Many support the name change, saying it will help Bangalore get back in touch with its cultural roots and bring back local pride. The move, however, is running into opposition from some residents who feel it will be a setback for the reputation of “India’s Silicone Valley.” Others, such as the BBC’s Sanjoy Majunder, point to the “money which many say could have been used instead on improving the city's infrastructure, which is struggling to cope with its new-found success.”