Cultural interpreters needed?

Most British managers think they should make more effort to learn about the business practices of other countries before visiting them, and two thirds find their lack of knowledge about other cultures embarrassing, according to an article I found today.

A survey of just over 200 senior managers and directors of major UK companies found that the vast majority rely on their foreign colleagues being able to speak English, only one fifth said they spoke another language, and a quarter of them admitted making cultural faux-pas when dealing with foreign business people. In spite of this, 80% said that they often do business with people from other cultures, and 66% said they travel overseas regularly on business.

Perhaps what they need are cultural interpreters, who could accompany them on their trips and explain the culture and etiquette of the countries they visit, maybe acting as interpreters of language as well. Do such people exist?

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5 Responses to Cultural interpreters needed?

  1. David says:

    I interviewed Stuart Jay Raj a while back and that’s pretty much what he does– he basically helps businesses communicate across cultural barriers.

  2. neoyorkina says:

    Yes, such people do exist. I used to work for a U.S. media company that had operations all over the world and in the Middle East and Asia there were people on staff who acted as both cultural and language interpreters.

  3. GeoffB says:

    Most language and relocation companies either offer cultural consulting services or partner with someone who does. Cultural consultants can teach you about everything from business practices to communicating with guest workers to finding a grocery store that offers the staples of your home country’s cuisine, depending on whom you contract and how in-depth a training you (or more likely your company) are willing to pay for. All you need to do is google “cultural consulting” if you’re curious. Be forewarned, however, that cultural consulting usually costs a good deal more than run-of-the-mill language lessons.

    For those who are marginally curious about the countries they work with, “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: How to do business in sixty countries” provides pretty good basic information, but it’s probably a bit out of date by now. There are a lot of up-to-date, country-specific offerings as well, from the Harvard Business School’s Doing Business in China to… Doing Business in China for Dummies.

  4. Nadine says:

    I’m a language interpreter, and I find that when I do consecutive, as opposed to simultaneous, interpreting, I get to explain a lot about French culture to my clients (mainly US executives, but I’ve also had assignments with British MPs).

    I also find that because I am a native they can refer to during their visit, they are eager to know more about the country. The best interaction I’ve had over the years was with farmers from the Middle West, who were really keen to know more about France, most of them had never come to Europe before.

  5. James Welch says:

    Cultural interpreters is a new one but I like it. Such people do of course exist but not really in the sense you suggest. Usually cultural consultants training people to be more culturally competent to help then understand the Chinese, Indians, Germans, etc better. The other option is of course to employ people with a good knowledge of a country to do business there.

    An excellent site for all things intercultural is http://www.kwintessential.co.uk