is central to the expression of culture. Within each cultural
group, the use of words reflects the lifestyle, attitudes
and many of the customs of that group. Language is not only
a key to understanding the group, it is the principal way
of communicating within it.
A language usually defines the parameters
of a particular culture. Thus if several languages are
spoken within the borders of a country, that country is
seen to have as many cultures. In Canada, for instance,
both English and French are spoken; in Belgium, French
and Flemish; while in South Africa there are 11 official
languages with a number of other African languages also
spoken by the population. In addition, there are often
variations within a language - different dialects, accents,
pronunciations and terminology may distinguish one cultural
group from another, e.g. English-speaking South Africans,
the British, Americans and Australians.
Learning some of the subtleties of a language
can assist greatly in avoiding confusion:
Several brief examples of mistranslated English
idioms or expressions can be cited to illustrate how often
blunders have been made. One European firm certainly missed
the point when it translated the expression "out of
sight, out of mind" as "invisible things are
insane" in Thailand. There is also the story of the
phrase "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
being translated to "the liquor is holding out all
right, but the meat has spoiled". And consider, finally,
a translation of "Schweppes Tonic Water" to the
Italian "ii water". The copy was speedily changed
to "Schweppes Tonic" because 'il water"
idiomatically indicates a bathroom.
(Source: D A Ricks, Big Business Blunders)
The importance of being able to understand
other languages cannot be over-emphasised - this is particularly
relevant when executives travel abroad and are negotiating
with people of different language groups. Because English
is the predominant language of business in the western
world, people with English as a home language are usually
reluctant to learn foreign languages and tend to expect
others to converse with them in English. In contrast, European
and Far Eastern businesspersons have been willing to learn
and converse in the language of their trading partners,
leading inevitably to a better understanding and better
rapport between the parties concerned. If exporters do
not speak the language of the country they plan to visit,
they should at least establish the extent to which their
own language is spoken there and, if necessary, engages
the services of an interpreter during discussions or negotiations.
If promotional material needs to be
prepared in a foreign language, it is important to ensure
that none of the meaning is lost or distorted when the
information is translated. Thus, translations should be
undertaken within the country concerned or at least by
a native of the country in question.