;   Medical Translation Insight: Business without borders: Language considerations - ForeignExchange Translations

Thanks to advances in technology, transportation, manufacturing and the increased spending power of the global consumer, companies are rapidly expanding into the global marketplace. But more than miles separate many of these markets. In order to achieve success, it’s critical that organizations bridge the gaps that exist in business culture, language and social conventions. Awareness, familiarization and careful communication are essential to the establishment of productive, successful business relationships.
Language considerations to think about when communicating between global offices include both words and spelling. Creating a style book that outlines expectations for language use can fend off confusion and save time. Employees know whether to use “while’’ or “whilst”; “maneuver” or “manoeuvre”; “color” or “colour.” 
English is the world’s predominant business language, and linguists estimate that the language is expanding by about 5,000 words a year. Most of that is slang and jargon that originates in media, sports or other influences. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) recommends that organizations avoid the use of colloquialisms, and instead use World English, which is more limiting, but has less risk of being misunderstood.
Some business jargon is widely used and understood across specific industries, and is less of a concern. However, slang that incorporates metaphors that are outrageous or other verbal eccentricities should be avoided. For example, someone “licking his chops” may instead be characterized as “gloating.” Someone who “shoots himself in the foot” could be “unintentionally hurts himself.” Taking this approach can be a slam dunk, or more appropriately, a successful endeavor for an organization’s communications staff. It’s important that communicators put themselves in the place of a non-native speaker when writing and editing materials for global distribution. This cultural sensitivity to language can help in avoid ambiguity.
Here are some tips for communicating with colleagues across international offices:
  • Avoid slang. Translation is not always clear.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid using big words when a small one will do. And be aware that in some cultures the word “yes” might mean “yes,” “maybe” or even “no.” Restate the question so it does not require a “yes-no” answer.
  • Speak slower, not louder. It’s embarrassing how many of us, in conversation with someone whose native language is different from our own; speak louder as though that will make us more understandable. Instead, slow down the pace a little, and give the other person extra time to comprehend what you’re says.
  • If you’ve agreed on action items or next steps, review them carefully as a way of confirming that everyone understands what will happen next.
  • Be patient. This is especially important for US stakeholders who believe that “time is money.” Quick and timely responses are not international norms, even among international offices of US-based organizations. 
Of course, part of the charm and excitement of working in a global company are the differences and difficulties themselves and an ability to laugh at our "faux pas" and mistakes can actually help bond a team. Remember to keep a sense of humor and keep on learning.


ForeignExchange is a global medical translation company, with offices in the U.S., Canada, and Spain.

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