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When Natives Meet: Bridging the Language Divide

It is believed that if you want to make the best impression on somebody, it is better to use their mother tongue. Is it better to try to speak that language yourself or hire an interpreter to bridge that gap for you? It’s a dilemma, but an important one that can have real consequences for the success of your business negotiations. Linearis shares its own experience gained through many meetings with foreign business partners.

Lingua franca – not a silver bullet

Fluency in at least one foreign language has always been considered to be a sign of good manners. Especially with respect to English which is usually recognized as a lingua franca of varied prominence depending on location. These discrepancies become clearer if we look at the current political and economic situation.

Brexit. Even though it created doubt about the future status of the English language in Europe, it is not expected to lose importance, at least unless the European Union decides to strengthen the position of another official language. And obviously, this kind of transition takes many years. Nevertheless, negotiations with EU member states which were never that enthusiastic about recognizing a foreign language may indeed become more complicated if representatives of the business community decide to stick to their own languages from now on. Even if within the EU each country’s preference for its own language becomes an unspoken rule, this has already been the case outside of the EU for quite some time. Why would this preference become an issue now?

The picture is pretty transparent. The most attractive business partners today are the countries that many consider to be exotic. They earn this distinction due to their local color: they stay true to their traditions, and set great store in and preserve their culture and language. These countries are large, self-sufficient and have continued to grow despite the global crisis. Business negotiations with these countries are only possible if you speak their language – quite literally.

A help or a hindrance?

For many years, English has been used by non-native speakers as a means of communication. Nevertheless, not all business people can speak it fluently. Although this doesn’t disrupt mutual understanding, it does place restrictions on your message. One of the major projects of Linearis has unintentionally become an experiment in how participants introduce their businesses to potential cooperation partners, in their mother tongue or a foreign language.

Over the course of many meetings, we watched our clients introduce their companies in English, a language foreign to them, because they believed they were capable of telling their story without much disruption. And they seemed to be doing pretty well until we learned how many interesting details were being lost behind the language barrier.

The second part of these negotiations included interpreters. Since many potential partners identified by the Linearis team were Chinese companies, their representatives spoke almost no English or realized the value of interpreters in these circumstances. From the very first meeting, it was clear that clients felt much more confident and comfortable. Using their own language allowed them to communicate about their companies freely and gain greater engagement from potential buyers.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

Use of an interpreter: risk or success factor?

It matters to partners whether you speak to them in their mother tongue. The question is how you define success. A successful meeting means much more than just laying out the facts, but requires mutual understanding that can only be reached through the prism of a potential partner’s native language. Reaching that understanding when your message is transmitted using a limited vocabulary is almost impossible.

The only smart decision in these circumstances is to hire an interpreter. “Will they do a better job communicating than I do?” Absolutely! And that’s the whole point. Linearis interpreters have at least one relevant higher degree and work experience. The interpreters we use for business negotiations with Chinese entrepreneurs, for example, have experience running a business in Asia or experience gained working with local and foreign representatives in that part of the world.

It is also worth mentioning that within the frameworks of the project mentioned, Linearis interpreters, once they become acquainted with the business and offers of our clients, are able to suggest other aspects of the client’s business that should be highlighted. As skilled professionals our interpreters can not only identify details that have been unintentionally omitted by the client but also, with their permission, answer questions posed by potential partners themselves, thus saving time for both parties.

Final note

What conclusion do we want to leave you with? First of all, speak your language – the one that lets you freely and fully express yourself, the one that reflects your brand. Second, remember what speaking the language of your business partner actually means. It involves much more than simply delivering your message in their language. It means seeing the situation through their eyes, which is hard to imagine without understanding the culture, values, interests and development of their country. All you need to be on the same page is a clear goal and the right intermediary, namely a professional interpreter who knows both languages and the relevant cultural and business. Do you have an important deal on the line? Make sure it is successful – contact us and let us help to find the best professionals for your needs.