The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 15 of 35

FEATURES Better for business The notion that language might shape thought was, for a long time, considered untestable at best and crazy at worst. However, in the past decade, cognitive scientists have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they think, proving that language does profoundly influence how we see the world. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality and create our culture, and this will have important implications for our politics, religion, law… and how we do business. So what do you need to know to do better business abroad? First, recognise that people from other countries and cultures think differently, reason and process information differently, and communicate differently. They may do international business in English, but a Norwegian's English is not the same as an Italian's English, and neither uses English in the same way as a native speaker. The potential for misunderstanding is great. It is essential to get on the same wavelength, to make a connection and, above all, to try to meet expectations. In their efforts for global reach and local touch, marketers still manage to make translation blunders. The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed on the name 'Fartfull' for one of its new desks. Panasonic created a new web browser and used the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide. The day before it launched a huge marketing campaign it had to pull the plug on its slogan: 'Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker'. The company didn't realise its cross-cultural blunder until an embarrassed American explained what 'touch Woody's pecker' could be interpreted as. 16 The Linguist © HUATING | DREAMSTIME.COM Deborah Swallow offers five practical guidelines to help you through the minefield of doing business across cultures Clearly, doing business abroad can be a minefield. It is much more than flying out, staying in posh hotels and eating different food. It's about entering a different world where everyday business events have different rules. So let me offer five practical guidelines to help improve your understanding of business undertakings overseas. Contracts It is always wise to find out how contracts are regarded in the country you are dealing with. If you think that, when a contract is signed, all negotiations are over, you may be in for a shock. In many regions, including China and the Middle East, signing the contract only signals the start of real negotiations. The contract is no more than a statement of intent – now the business of striking a deal can really be done. Not only that, in some countries, such as Finland and The Gambia, a handshake AUGUST/SEPTEMBER DISASTROUS CAMPAIGNS Ikea in Gungzhou, China. The Swedish furniture store has not always got it right internationally: its 'Fartfull' range had to be pulled from its website matters more than a written contract. And in others – for example, Afghanistan and Japan – asking for a written agreement implies a lack of trust. In China and Japan, the contract is between you and the individual employee who signs the document, not with the company. So if that individual leaves, you may have to re-negotiate. When things go wrong – and they often do – remember that in many cultures emotion is not merely recognised, it is an indication of integrity. In the Middle East, what one says in front of the court is more important than what has been written down. The Maoris believe that speech is meant to be from the heart, rather than in a more

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