"Language is the key to the world." (Wilhelm von Humboldt)
""Language is the key to the world." - When reading this sentence we think: yes, of course. That's right. This statement was as true two hundred years ago as it is today. No, in fact it is even more relevant and more important today than ever before. Modern means of communication and the sheer endless mobility of merchandise, persons and services let individual locations become less and less important. It is rather the network of processes, procedures and flows of merchandise and money that counts today.
But wait a minute: what about "the" language?
Well, strictly speaking there is so such thing as 'the' language. And no, English as a lingua franca is not THE one and only language. Why? That's very simple. When learning a foreign language students learn to make themselves understood in another language. "What's the way to the train station?" means .... in ....
For as long as language remains on this rather simple level, everything is fine. But it gets more complex when it's about the subtleties and nuances , e.g. in a negotiation. "In bigger meetings only those who speak English well end up talking, and not those who are the experts in the field," says business linguist and consultant, Reiner Pogarell 1 .
In bigger meetings only those who speak English well end up talking, and not those who are the experts in the field. (Reiner Pogarell)
At this stage you might ask yourself: wait a second, but what's different with interpreters? Quite simply the fact that well-trained interpreters have lived abroad, and during their studies or in the context of internships or job assignments have absorbed, analyzed, immersed in and developed a sense for the culture (or often cultures) of the other country. In addition, being linguists, they also "hear" what the speaker did not verbalize , but what is there, in between the lines. At the end of the day it is these nuances and subtleties that make transactions a success.
Why do so many take-overs and mergers fail? Because of diverging approaches, talking at cross-purposes, a lack or deficient communication, and - yes - also the insensitivity to the multitude of levels of culture on the other side, the culture of the country, the department, the industry or the individual.
Following a series of comprehensive surveys in more than 40 nations, the Dutch scholar Geert Hofstede 2 condensed the so-called cultural dimensions from this research. Apart from power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity you will find uncertainty avoidance and long-term vs. short-term normative orientation. Taking a closer look at the outcome of his research 3 , one thing becomes clear right away: no one culture is like another. Geographical proximity means anything but comparability .
Hence this blog does not feature stories from the life of an interpreter, but rather looks at this field of tension between language, culture and communication in entrepreneurial actions.
1 Pogar ell, R. in Gentner, Stefanie (2010): "Schlechtes Deutsch ist besser als gutes Englisch" (Bad German is better than good English), Süddeutsche Zeitung. ( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/beispiel-porsche-sprache-in-firmen-schlechtes-deutsch-besser-als-gutes-englisch-1.292633, accessed on February 15, 2015)
2 Hofstede, G.(2001) in Zentru m für i nterkulturelles Management ( http://www.interkulturelles-management.com/nationale-kultur/kulturdimension/hofstede.html, accessed on February 15, 2015).
3 Clearly Cultural, http://www.clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/power-distance-index/, accessed on February 15, 2015.