Monday, May 04, 2009

Mind Your Language

You may find yourself speaking in a country where you are not too comfortable with the language. If you are at an international conference, then sessions will probably be conducted in English, or simultaneous translation will be provided. Whatever the circumstances, you may wish to include a phrase or two of the local language in order to "please" your audience. If you do, then make sure that you practice and deliver it accurately. US President John F Kennedy, on a visit to Berlin during the cold war, uttered the memorable phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner". In fact, he meant to say "Ich bin Berliner" ("I am a Berliner"), since the former phrase means "I am a doughnut". However, being who he was, he got away with it.

Your audience may not be so forgiving. Talk to a locally- based colleague to find out what would be a useful phrase, and what behaviour is acceptable. I can tell you from experience that having advance knowledge of a culture is a tremendous help when faced with a roomful of foreign dignitaries.

If you use an interpreter, here are a few tips -

* Meet the interpreter in advance
* Find out whether the translation is simultaneous or consecutive
* Avoid idiomatic phrases, such as "right on the money"
* Talk to the audience, not the interpreter
* Speak in short sentences
* Avoid humour

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