From the Editor
Welcome to the March edition of Language Lines!
American businesspeople are feeling the need to catch up with their European counterparts on the foreign language front. In this month's issue of Language Lines, our featured topic is foreign language learning. You'll see that interest in learning another language is on the increase in the US, and we'll give you some tips if you decide to hit the books – or Podcasts – in order to learn a new language or brush up on existing skills.
Our news section focuses on two aspects of cultural differences in business: cross-cultural customer loyalty, and negotiations with Asian trade partners. Finally, we examine the Internet boom in China. As always, you will find links to key articles and websites.
In April, we will provide essential information about one of our company's specialties: localization. It's an aspect of language services that your company can't afford to ignore, and we are already looking forward to sharing our knowledge of the field with you.
As always, we would be pleased to receive any comments, questions and story ideas at: email@example.com .
II. This Month's Feature: Learning Foreign Languages
For many of us, foreign language learning represents a distant memory: a class to study for; a few snippets of an audio cassette; a college requirement. And Americans – like the British, if it can be of any reassurance – are not internationally known for their foreign language prowess.
However, with the rise of China and the European Union as global economic powers, change is in the air. Businesspeople are finding it useful, and even necessary, to acquire foreign language skills. New language learners range from executives who head off to Spanish immersion courses in Guatemala to children whose parents hope to give them a competitive edge by enrolling them in early bilingual programs.“ Landing the job of one's dreams requires more than ever before deep knowledge of what's out there,” explains Heidi B. Malhotra of The Epoch Times. And there's a lot out there besides American English.
The Department of Education has recognized that American students must master “critical need” foreign language skills for US businesses to remain globally competitive. Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are considered “critical need” languages and the US government plans to focus more resources on educating students, teachers and government workers in these tongues.
Yet for the moment, the most useful – and lucrative -- foreign language for US workers is Spanish. “Studies have shown bilinguals make between 5%-20% more per hour -- especially those who hold government positions,” writes Bryan Hahn for NBC affiliate KSBY-TV in San Luis Obispo, California. “And Spanish is the language most in demand.“
Your New Year's Resolution was to learn a new language, or your company needs you to speak one as soon as possible. Here are some tips from Language Translation Inc. to help you with your linguistic endeavors:
1. Fix reasonable goals: It can take up to ten years to become a fluent speaker, so don't set your sights too high -- especially if you want to learn a non-European language. For travel, a lot can be accomplished with a little language. For business purposes, more time and investment will be necessary.
2. Study and practice regularly: Studies indicate that it is much more efficient to study and practice a language a little every day than to “cram in” too much learning in a short period of time. So if you're enrolled in a weekly language course, try to study and practice 20-30 minutes a day rather than three straight hours on the weekend.
3. Master the basics first: You may think you only need “medical Spanish” or “business Chinese.” And although language for specialized purposes can be isolated and emphasized in software, classes and course books, everybody needs basic grammar, vocabulary and comprehension before moving on to professional usage.
4. Human contact still counts: Some determined souls can manage to acquire a language through self-study only, especially if they are already multi-lingual. But many learners still get their motivation from human contact, and rumors of the death of the old-fashioned language class have been greatly exaggerated. A group or one-on-one class can be the best way to get started, especially if you're a true beginner.
5. Perfect the language abroad: You learn a language in class; you perfect it abroad. Once you've acquired a functional level, though, it's time to perfect your skills with an overseas stay or immersion program, which can focus on business language skills such as telephoning, negotiations and participating in international meetings.
Busy businesspeople need to make the most of their language learning time. While language classes remain popular, MP3 players and other new technology are helping learners practice and study in ways that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. Listening to a new language can be just a Podcast away, and the Internet offers unlimited opportunities to read, practice writing or speaking, and learn vocabulary.
Language learners “are using MP3 players more to listen to downloaded books, textbook study guides and language labs on-the-go,” writes Madlen Read for the Associated Press. “Books and personal stereos have always been portable, of course, but audiobooks are easier to carry around in MP3 form.”
For those who haven't fully joined the MP3 generation, other new methods have been launched which promise quick language learning results. One of the most popular is the decidedly low-tech “Pimsleur language learning system,” generally presented on audio CDs. Developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, the method works entirely through listening and reacting to real-life situations, and is a great way to use traffic jam time.
Of course, gone are the days when language learners had to special order foreign newspapers and magazines to read impossibly difficult articles. The Internet makes texts, videos and multimedia presentations available in many languages, and numerous sites specialize in language learning, providing online exercises, quizzes, lessons – and, of course, the possibility to communicate with fellow learners.
If US companies are truly ready to close the language gap, their employees certainly have a wealth of tools to choose from.
In the news
A leading global provider of customer loyalty consulting services has announced the availability of new multi-national data for customer loyalty benchmarking. According to a report released by Satmetrix Systems, there is a growing need to understand cross-cultural customer loyalty measurements. Cultural elements can influence customer loyalty scores, and companies need to know if their measurements reflect real differences in performance or variations caused by cultural bias.
The study concludes that customers in Japan tend to give lower customer satisfaction ratings, whereas customers from Latin American and the Middle East often rate their satisfaction more highly than European and Asian customers.
"Without a mechanism to distinguish true performance differences from cultural response bias, comparisons of survey results across countries or regions can lead to inaccurate results and compromise the ability of decision-makers to confidently act on the data," said Dr. Laura Brooks, vice president of research and consulting at Satmetrix. "Companies that operate in multiple countries need to better understand how cultural factors influence customer survey responses, taking into account these differences when analyzing and acting on customer feedback."
Understanding the importance of culture is essential for effective contract negotiations, especially in the Asian market. If your company is interested in breaking into the Asian arena, you will be interested in the in-depth article on Asian business culture published in the February 2007 issue of The Manufacturer.
In “Won (or Lost) in Translation”, April Terreri analyzes recent studies which delve into the details of inter-cultural negotiations. Of course it's important to know about body language and how – or if – to shake hands. But once all parties are sitting around the bargaining table, these details become minor compared to interpreting mindsets and attempting to reach a solid deal.
The article emphasizes the importance of “guanxi,” or “trusted relationships” in the Far East , especially in China. Companies would be well-advised to start the trust-building process before the first meetings with potential Asian business partners. However there are no hard and fast rules; trust and relationships are less crucial among younger Chinese businesspeople, especially those educated in the USA.
The article covers a number of other key points including how many negotiators to expect, the conceptual difference between Asian and Western business contracts, and concludes by emphasizing the importance of strategic planning in inter-cultural business negotiations.
China now ranks second only to the U.S. in Internet use, according to a survey carried out by the Internet Society of China in Beijing. The study shows that average monthly Internet spending rose 47% from 2005 to 2006. It includes 50 Internet sectors, and demonstrates that the top 16 sectors have all attained at least 100 million users.
“The most popular types of Internet services in China are search engines,” writes Shu-Ching Jean Chen for Forbes.com. Internet portals such as Sina.com and Netease.com are the second most widely used Web service. And although online advertising only makes up 1.8% of Internet spending, its use has increased by 51% over the past year.
Blogging is also exploding, showing a 12.32% rise from 2005. Personal websites, video-sharing systems and Podcast services are also gaining in popularity. Internet use is catching up with watching TV and with the increasing availability of broadband, will soon become the nation's most popular pastime.
Considering these huge gains in just one year, it appears certain that Internet services in China will continue to be one of the world's biggest growth industries.
For more news about languages, translation and localization, and international business, visit our news blog, updated three times a week.