We are all aware of the potential dangers of misinterpretation in translating and interpreting, but what about the dangers of misunderstanding even when participants share a language? And is it really true that English is the world language of the future?
One of my ‘favourite’ arguments about globalisation and how small our world is becoming is that English is becoming the preferred language of business worldwide. This has been used as an excuse to delay (or do away with) language teaching in schools, or for failing to translate materials at conferences and in multinational organisations.
Native English speakers, however, would have trouble recognizing the emerging universal English, or ‘globish’, a term coined by a French businessman and expat in 1995 (and which most recently has led to a book with that name written by Robert McCrum). This is ‘English-lite’, a simplified version of English, which foreigners understand much better, devoid of accent, jargon, puns or emotional baggage. It may not be the language of Shakespeare, but it’s a far better bet for you as a presenter at an international conference.
However, if you do want to convey nuances, if you do want to be subtle, or if you simply want to impress your foreign counterparts and build a relationship, nothing beats learning their language. It’s not easy, but it’s a sure sign of interest and respect, and will bring you all sorts of additional benefits. Be sure to learn not just how to translate your sentences in a linguistically accurate fashion, but also your meaning. Because sometimes concepts do not travel well from one culture to another, even when the words seem to be perfectly clear. ‘Decisive’ Japanese managers, anyone?