Monthly Archives: February 2015

If you want to get ahead in business, learn these languages

We really don’t know how lucky we are in this country. We speak the language that roughly 2 billion other people in the world use on a regular basis, to wit, English. However, although 2 billion speak English, only about 500 million are actually native English speakers. Moreover, of those 2 billion who can and do communicate in the world’s most important language, guess where most of them live?* If you don’t know, you may be surprised. I was!

That said, with globalisation shrinking the world, businesses are slowly realising the importance of speaking other languages. Yes, you can get someone to translate for you (us for example!), but when you get off the plane on the other side of the planet, it does help if you are desperate for a cup of tea and you can ask for it in the local language.

Equally obviously, the language you might want to learn will depend on where you are doing/going to do business. There is no point in being fluent in Spanish if your markets are in the Far East.

A number of articles, easily found on the web, will point you towards the most important languages for business. One online piece I read recently suggested there are eight languages the modern business man or woman which really matter.   Apart from English, these are:

Russian – 160 Million Native Speakers. Six countries have Russian as an official language. It’s not the easiest to learn, but as not all Russian businesspeople speak English it is important to do so if you want to do business there.

French – 74 Million Native Speakers. A lot of former French colonies still use the language and there are about 335 million across the world who speak it.

Japanese – 127 Million Native Speakers. Japan is a hugely important economy and technology powerhouse. So if that’s what you do, perhaps you should learn Japanese!.

Portuguese – 202 Million Native Speakers. The enormous number speaking Portuguese is largely due to it being the official language of Brazil (with its population of over 200 million). Portuguese is also an official language in nine countries other countries, including of course, Portugal!

Arabic – 223 Million Native Speakers. The official language of some 27 different countries, Arabic is essential for anyone wanting to do business in the Middle East.

Spanish – 406 Million Native Speakers. The second most common language in the USA, Spanish is a very important world language. Other than in Brazil, it is the language spoken throughout Latin America. Around 20 countries include Spanish as an official language.

Mandarin Chinese – 935 Million Native Speakers. Those 935 million people constitute a big market. Moreover, as China’s reach extends across the world, there are Chinese communities in many countries, from Brunei to the Philippines.

* and yes, the answer to the question of where most English speakers live is China!

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

Rugby: a game played by men with funny-shaped cojones

Scottish rugby is on a bit of an up, with Edinburgh and Glasgow performing admirably and the national team is attracting increasingly favourable comments from the rugby cognoscenti. Part of the reason for that success is the huge amount of preparation that goes into every aspect of the team’s performance.

Naturally, this is mainly about the players, but there are many other details to be considered before and after the game. With the Six Nations meaning games against the French and Italians, one of these details is obviously providing interpretation and translation services.

Last year, we, at Global Connects, got a call asking us for a quote for providing an interpreter for Scotland’s match against France. Naturally, with such a high-profile event, the SRU required a very high standard of work and we were delighted to be asked (and even more delighted to be chosen!).

To give you an idea of what this involves, the interpreter doesn’t just have to be fluent in the language; he or she also ideally has to have knowledge of, and preferably a love for, the game. Moreover, there is a black-tie dinner on the Friday before the game, attended by various rugby dignitaries and the interpreter has a seat at the top table, in this instance alongside the Presidents of the Scottish and French Rugby Unions, so they have to be comfortable in those surroundings and not eat peas with their knives. At this dinner, both Presidents make speeches in their own language, which require precise interpretation into the other language. It’s not an occasion for the faint-hearted interpreter!

Furthermore, there is then a post-match dinner with around 400 people, again including high ranking rugby officials, politicians and other VIPs. Fortunately, rugby songs are not on the agenda, but there are obviously rugby ‘in-jokes’ which require a degree of highly specialist language knowledge.

We like to think we’re quite good at Spanish (not just because of our sister company, Lorca Spanish, teaches lots of people in Glasgow and Edinburgh). We provided interpreters for both teams (Seville and Espanyol) for the UEFA Cup Final in Glasgow back in 2007, so last September we were chuffed to receive a request for a Spanish interpreter for the rugby international against Argentina. Fortunately, Andrea, the interpreter we put forward not only had a wealth of rugby knowledge, but she was also Argentinian. There are not many of them in Scotland with an in-depth rugby knowledge and she went down a storm. Anyone who knows anything about Spanish will know that there are certain words which are in common use in Spain but which are very rude indeed when used in Argentina, so it’s vital to get it absolutely right!

The feedback showed just how important this is, “Also just again a note on Andrea – we met with our CEO and Director yesterday and they both raved about her and how great she was (and) we’d loved to have her back! ”

Next weekend, we are providing the interpreter for Scotland’s game with Italy. Our interpreter not only has a lot of conference interpreting experience at European level, but has a good knowledge of rugby (rare for Italians), mainly due to her boyfriend being from New Zealand!

Finding these types of interpreters involves taking the time to match an interpreter’s profile to the client’s exact requirements. This means that we are able to provide extra reassurance around issues such as specific sporting knowledge and ensures we deliver exactly what the client wants.  And it’s even better when Scotland wins!

Anthony Madill, Global Connects

“I think it’s terrible that the school is making your kid study a compulsory language”

As reported recently in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere, the country needs to do much more to halt the decline in numbers studying foreign languages at university.   Put starkly, the numbers have fallen precipitously: for example, in 2013-14 there were only 615 entrants for German degree courses, which is a decline of over one third since 2007-08. French entrants have declined by 25% in the same period and now stand at just 1,775 for 2013-14. Italian has declined by 19% but Spanish by only 1%, while Chinese has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been the only one to buck the trend, growing by 30%.

This worries the British Council and it ought to worry a lot of other people as well. Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said the figures are “disappointing”, and noted that the reason for the decline can be traced to the reduction in numbers studying languages at school.   She is quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “There is a direct link between less people studying languages at university and less people studying them for A levels and GCSEs. It goes back a long way, to 2004 when modern language was scrapped as a compulsory GCSE subject.”

Although she is obviously talking about England, we should not be complacent in Scotland either. As the Scotsman newspaper reported a few years ago, things are not great north of the border. “An analysis of education statistics by The Scotsman has found the number of Higher course entrants for modern languages has fallen by nearly a quarter over the past 20 years, from 10,179 to just under 7,887 in 2011.”

Although the Scottish Government has plans to improve matters there is a real problem here. Things are not helped by the attitude of some parents. Have a look at this link, which includes, amongst other quotes, the memorable, “I think it’s terrible that the school is making your kid study a compulsory language at Standard Grade level”. This was from someone using, presumably without any sense of irony, the nom-de-plume ‘azzuri’!

Yes, of course we have a vested interest. However, it’s plain that in our increasingly globalized world, languages are important. According to the CBI, one in five schools has a persistently low-take up of languages, but with the EU being our largest export market, the ability to speak German, French or Spanish will increasingly be highly prized by companies. On top of this, there is also the issue of national security. In an increasingly dangerous world, with many unstable regions not least in the Middle East, it’s worrying to learn that in response to a question to the Ministry of Defence last November about how many people in the Armed Forces receive the government allowance given for Level 4 (degree-level) foreign language attainment, the answer, for Arabic speakers, was none.

Foreign language skills are too important to be ignored. But if your attitude is similar to that parent whose quote is the title of this blog, then we are in big trouble. 

David Orr, Director, Global Connects

Lost in Translation: how your firm might end up as a pile of garbage in Asia

Browsing the web recently, I came across a salutary story from a few years ago. An American company law firm, Kobre & Kim LLP, wanted to open in Hong Kong in 2010.   It is an example of the importance of getting translation right, not just in terms of the correct translation of the words concerned, but also in the way that a successful translation also takes account of local culture and practice.

Kobre & Kim was translated as “Plentiful Knowledge and Victorious in our Pursuit of Gold”. In the USA or the western world in general, this sounds a bit, well, egotistical, even if it might also be a refreshingly honest statement of most capitalist companies’ ultimate objective.

However, in Asia, this name was considered to be perfectly acceptable. Certainly, a lot more acceptable than another US company whose name was translated, literally, as ‘garbage pile’.

The crucial element in Kim & Kobre’s translation was their decision to take advice from native speaking employees and their Chinese families, plus a number of professors at the Yale-China Chinese Language Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Can you imagine what might have happened if Kobre & Kim had taken the easy/cheap option of using a machine translation service?   While English names are commonly used in the international business world, it pays to have a sound local name, but the potential for error is quite substantial, unless, of course, you want to be thought of as a pile of garbage…. 

David Orr, Director, Global Connects