The Linguist

The Linguist 53,1

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 24 of 35

Exporting talent Why the export industry is the perfect fit for languages graduate and International Sales Consultant Joanne Alexander-Sefre I decided from the very start that I wanted to use my languages very actively in my career. And I wanted to be the one doing the talking, rather than translating for other people. My interest is in sales and relationships, and what will help each individual company to sell wherever they want in the world. After studying German with Spanish and French at Salford, I took a postgraduate course in European marketing and began working at healthcare company Smith and Nephew. I was travelling 100-plus days a year. Not only was I using my German, French and Spanish, but they also paid for me to learn Italian, and I speak some Dutch and Farsi too. I set up Sefrex Ltd in 1994, at a time when business was very inward-looking and companies were resistant to the idea that they would need a strategy to communicate in other languages. Things have changed: now, every serious company knows they have to communicate correctly – whether that means having their website translated or employing people with languages. However, many companies still don't sell to France, our nearest neighbour. They deal with complicated markets elsewhere, often based on the fact that they can deal with them in English. In 1994, I went to a big exhibition in Germany and started having a joke with two Spanish guys who came to the stall. One of them was setting up a distribution business in the food industry. Twenty years later, I'm working ever closer with this company. Without that language knowledge, this wouldn't have happened. Cultural misunderstandings can lead to losing a customer forever. One client had a major problem with product complaints. The attitude of the French customer was panic and needing immediate answers; the British response was much more measured. The French believed that the English weren't taking it seriously enough, but it was a cultural misunderstanding. Together with my business partner, we managed to resolve it. Vol/53 No/1 2014 FEBRUARY/MARCH The Linguist 25 FEATURES and Spanish with payments, checking out, complaints, concierge inquiries such as ordering taxis and recommending restaurants, and any other queries or problems they may have. Through the work, he has picked up some Italian, German and Portuguese, so he is able to help guests in those languages when his more fluent colleagues are not available. Being able to use and practise his language skills is one of the things he enjoys most about the job. 'The most difficult thing is changing the language all the time. You have a guest and you are speaking Spanish, which is your native language, and suddenly you have to switch to French. This is a bit confusing for your mind,' he says. 'But you have daily practice.' He is certain that he would not be doing this kind of work if he did not have some understanding of at least one other language. 'You need to have a minimum knowledge of other languages,' he says. H10 hired him, in part, because of his knowledge of Spanish and English. It was a similar a story for Nisa Vasconcelos, who works in the Accounts Department of the four-star Caesar Hotel in Bayswater. 'I got the job because one of the requirements was being comfortable in Spanish,' she says. 'I was going to be communicating with people in Spain who were not comfortable speaking in English.' In fact, she uses her native Portuguese more often, helping travel agencies in Portugal and Brazil with everything from queries regarding bookings to invoice mistakes. Jaffer, too, prioritises candidates with language skills and always asks applicants how many languages they speak. 'We'd be more likely to hire the person who speaks more languages,' he explains. 'If I had two people with the same skills set, but one of them spoke two languages fluently – say English and Chinese – and the other person spoke five languages to an intermediate level, I'd probably hire the person with more languages but less experience in each language. They don't need to have a conversation about politics; they need to talk to customers about basic things.' Vasconcelos agrees. When Caesar Hotel, which counts Polish, French and Hungarian among the languages spoken by staff, was interviewing for a new porter with fluency in Spanish and English, one of the candidates revealed that he also spoke Portuguese. 'We have a lot of guests coming from Brazil and Portugal, so that was a plus,' she says. 'The ability to speak other languages creates this affinity with the customer and makes them more comfortable when relying on us.' What is noticeable about Vasconcelos, Magdalena and Jaffer is that none is originally from the UK. Although Jaffer's first language is English, he had a bilingual upbringing with a French mother. In 2012, the hotel industry warned that finding British staff had become increasingly difficult, with the Malmaison and Hotel du Avoiding public online complaints must be a priority – and language skills can help CUSTOMER SERVICE The front desk at H10 London Waterloo, close to the Houses of Parliament (left); and (below) a member of staff at Caesar Hotel in Bayswater

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 53,1