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What Nelson Mandela can Teach Business Owners

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 27, 2017

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 
― Nelson Mandela

One of the most inspiring figures in history, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is simply incredible. Everyone knows about his  work in fighting apartheid and leading South Africa. Yet, as inspiring as he is, one of his pithiest quotes is often forgotten.

In a world driven by information and communication, it is striking how many companies still have the attitude that everyone speaks English, so professional translation and interpreting are pointless. The bare facts show them to be wrong.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for languages has shown that, in the United Kingdom alone, companies miss out on £48 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills. Research from Common Sense Advisory has found that 75% of consumers prefer to buy in their native language and nearly 60% of consumers will never or only rarely buy from English-only websites.

And, no, machine translation is not enough to bridge the gap. We only need to peruse the numerous examples of poor machine translation found around the web (supreme court beef, anyone?) to see why professionals are still needed. When it comes to interpreting, the results are even more striking, as can be seen from this video of a so-called “translation earpiece” in action.

Human professionals will always deliver a better job. Only last year, I helped a company land a seven figure contract by smoothing out a cultural misunderstanding during an interpreting assignment. Machines won’t do that. At best, they just tell you what the person said.

Interpreting makes a difference. You will always be more convincing when working with a professional than you will be without them. If you are looking for your business to reach international markets and persuade buyers who don’t speak your language, it’s time we talked. Drop me an email to see the difference professional interpreter can make to you.

Donald Trump, Uber and the Rediscovery of Responsibility

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: September 22, 2017

Two stories have dominated my newsfeed over the past few days. In the first, Iranian interpreter, Nima Chitzas defended his choice to omit some content from a speech delivered by President Donald Trump at the United Nations. In the second, Transport for London has failed to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city.

As different as the two stories might be, they have one theme in common: responsibility.

In the first case, the interpreter’s justification of his decision is as interesting as the decision itself. His argument was that he could not relay content that he felt was untruthful and “against Iran”. In his mind, his responsibility to the “truth” outweighed any professional code of conduct that requires complete and impartial interpreting.

In the second case, as much as people are criticising the decision not to renew Uber’s license to operate, the grounds named by Transport for London in their decision seem to show that, for them, it was simply a matter of upholding existing licensing laws. From their point of view, any company that doesn’t play by the rules, doesn’t get to play the game. Being responsible in that case simply meant respecting the systems and regulations already in place, no matter how much of a disruptor you might want to be.

Whether we agree with either of those decisions, they remind us that every decision has consequences. Even the default “say everything” position upheld by many interpreters has consequences. Sometimes giving an unfiltered view of what was said can have direct and immediate consequences. We need only read a few accounts of the fate of warzone interpreters to learn that.

At other times, interpreters may have to stand up and defend their choice to do anything apart from presenting a close version of what the speaker said. No matter what we might think of Mr Chitzas, he stood up and took responsibility for his actions. We may not agree with his actions but by offering a justification, at least we can now understand the reasoning behind them.

Similarly, the Uber decision seems to be nothing more than the latest in series of long-running battles between those who want to disrupt industries by relying on increasingly casual and flexible labour and those who see this as a removal of workers’ rights. The very point of labour and employment law is to make sure that companies treat their staff responsibly. This responsibility is needed more than ever in the growing “gig economy.”

But what does this mean for businesses like event managers and interpreters?

No matter which sector we are in, we can never forget that technology does not erase the need for responsibility; it heightens it. We can disrupt all we like but we have to disrupt while respecting those already in the industry and while treating our colleagues, competitors and suppliers as valued partners.

This means that we need to understand the effects our actions have on others, whether positive or negative. It means being sympathetic to those who might lose out. It means being prepared to defend our decisions.  Our words, our decisions, and our business practices will inevitably make a difference to someone. Are we ready to carry that responsibility?

 

 

Do event platforms work?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 16, 2017

It seems that at least once a quarter, some new event sourcing platform will pop up. This blog has already discussed the possibilites and drawbacks of venue sourcing sites but, with more and more companies trying to be the next big directory of everything event managers need, perhaps it’s time to think about how things work from the other side. Are event platforms any good for suppliers? Do they actually get you work?

The answer to that question will, of course, depend on the platform and the supplier. However, there are good reasons to doubt that event platforms will create the market disruption they often claim.

To see why, let’s take a lesson from translation and interpreting. There, despite a parallel market trend to the events industry, with platforms springing up like weeds along a driveway, there are still one or two major players who dominate the scene. The biggest and best established, is ProZ.com, which has taken its size and age and turned them into advantages by launching revenue producing conferences, courses and virtual events.

Yet even a cursory glance of the discussion of the platform among industry insiders will reveal a very mixed picture. While it is entirely possible for someone to pick up clients there – and indeed many still do – much of the best work seems to come via individual direct contact.

In other words, the very best that a platform like that can do for a supplier is to function as a website. The problem with that is that it is a website that the supplier has little control over and which does not give them the kind of fine-grained data that most good website owners would use to improve their sales and marketing.

In addition, it is no secret that the jobs that come through platforms tend not to be at the very top of the price tree. Largely, the high value projects are still allocated based on personal contact and prior relationship. People still buy people first and it is highly unlikely that someone will assign a large, high-cost project to someone on the basis of their profile on a platform alone.

There are good reasons to expect that a similar effect will be found on event industry platforms. Sure, there will be some work that gets passed via platforms but the biggest projects will likely be won, not because of a shiny profile on a platform but because of trusting relationships, built up meeting after meeting.

So yes, event platforms work. But they are not disruptors. In-person contact and relationship building will still rule the day for a long time to come.

Interpreting is Expensive … But the Alternatives Cost More

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 8, 2017

It’s always a surprise when event managers receive the response to their Request for a Quote for interpreting at an event. Even the simplest simultaneous interpreting setup seems to cost thousands of pounds. Is it really worth it?

 

There is no getting away from the fact that interpreting is expensive. And while the traditional justification has been to write long posts on how hard interpreting is (and it is hard) or to talk about the training interpreters have to take to be able to deliver at a high level (lots), that doesn’t mean a lot to you. No matter how good interpreting is, if it has no value for your company, it won’t be worth it.

 

One common response to the cost of interpreting is simply to decide to do everything in English. In some cases, that might seem like a very good short-term decision, especially as English is a global language. But what works in the short-term is often ruinous in the longer-term. Statistics from the House of Lords showed that companies in the UK lose out on £50 billion worth of contracts each year due to a lack of language skills.

 

English-only meetings and events might be cheap to set up but by displaying a lack of cultural awareness and language abilities, you will be putting customers off rather than winning them over. Conversely, when potential customers see that you care enough to have professional communications in their first language, they are more likely to see you as trustworthy and be more comfortable parting with their cash.

 

Choosing to do business in only one language leads to inevitable communication struggles. Every conference interpreter can tell stories of speakers who really should have used the interpreters that were available. For me, one of the most striking stories happened at a specialist construction event. Two Italian businesses had the opportunity to showcase their work. The first team presented in broken English, even though there were Italian to English interpreters available. The team from the second company noticed the train wreck that ensued and decided to speak in their best, most powerful Italian, which was then interpreted into English and then into French, Dutch and Spanish.

 

The difference was most noticeable after the break, just by looking at the number of visitors to the booths rented by each of the two companies. The first team, who used broken English, found themselves alone and bored while their competitors, who realised the power of interpreting, found themselves swamped with interest.

 

If there is a single best advertisement for the ROI of interpreting, it came last year, when I was interpreting for a British technical manufacturer, hoping to woo a French buyer into placing a large order. The entire meeting and the entire contract turned on a misunderstanding of a single word. The only person who realised what was going on and was able explain the problem to speakers of both languages? The interpreter.

 

One interpreter, one troublesome word, one large contract gained by the end of the two days. That was definitely money well spent. Interpreters, if recruited correctly, briefed properly and provided with the right setup will always be worth far more than you will pay them. Their work is the difference between an international meeting that changes the future of your company for the better and one that turns into a frustrating waste of time. Choose wisely.

 

And if you would like someone to help you choose interpreting that will deliver great value for money at your events, drop me an email.

Here’s a Brand New Course to Improve Your Public Speaking

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: August 3, 2017

There is nothing that comes close to the impact of delivering a talk that wows an audience. There is no better way to make people take notice of your business, believe your results or give you a promotion. Yet public speaking is regularly listed among our worst fears. It’s time that ended.

 

For the past month, I have been working on a course covering the four basic building blocks of public speaking:

  • Content that carries the message you want to deliver
  • Communication that brings understanding and encourages change
  • Connection that makes you believable and relatable
  • Creativity that creates moments that people remember when they go home.

 

Those are the four building blocks that I have been teaching around Europe in my popular Public Speaking Workshop for the past two years. This has honed my presentation and allowed me to answer the big questions that people have about speaking. And now, I have gathered the very best content from that workshop and turned it into a four part course with videos, podcasts, FAQ sheets and a mini-guide for those who are new to speaking.

Until 9th August, 2017 the course is on offer at a bargain price of £29.99 for fifty minutes of video teaching, almost an hour of downloadable podcasts and all the other help sheets. Whatever your business, you will find that improving your public speaking gives you a noticeable boost and this course is there to do exactly that.

 

To find out more or to buy the course right now, simple go here: https://integrity-languages-courses.thinkific.com/courses/public-speaking-building-blocks

 

 

 

 

Over-hyped, Under-thought and nowhere near ready: Machine Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 12, 2017

A few months ago, I was flying to an important meeting and I was flicking through the in-flight magazine (for pitching purposes, you see). As I did that I spotted a short paragraph touting the latest technological development: an in-ear device that promised to translate flawlessly from one language to another. It looks like from now own event managers can dispense with us interpreters for good and just load up on a supply of tiny devices to make sure everyone has a great event, no matter which language they speak.

 

Obviously that isn’t going to happen.

 

Despite the wonderful headlines in the press and the incredible claims made by marketing departments, the chances of machine interpreting ear-pieces doing anything more than replacing phrasebooks is miniscule.

 

Why?

 

Firstly, there is nothing fundamentally new in the technology used in such devices. Machine translation of some sort or another has been around since the 1940s and is still producing results that range from the plausible to the ridiculous. Remember when google translate turned Russia into Mordor? Remember all those websites displaying mangled English because of poor use of machine translation?

 

Without going into the fine detail of where machine translation actually stands right now (you can read that in this article), basically, unless you are willing to spend months training it and are okay restricting your language to controlled phrases, the results of machine translation will be a bit dodgy.

 

When it comes to magical translation ear-pieces, machine translation is twinned with voice recognition – the technology that is still giving us frustrating helplines, semi-useful virtual assistants and the fury of everyone who doesn’t have a “standard accent”. Sure, voice recognition technology is advancing all the time but it still works best when you use a noise-cancelling microphone and speak super-clearly – not quite the thing for crowded cafés or busy conferences.

 

The second reason why translation headsets are not a cure-all is that interpreting is about far more than just matching a word or phrase in one language with a word or phrase in another. Language is a strange beast and in all communication, people use idioms, metaphors, similes, sarcasm, irony, understatement, and implications and are tuned to social cues, intentions, body language, atmosphere and intonation. At the moment, and for as much of the future as we can predict, computers will struggle to handle even one of those things.

 

Human interpreters have to be expert people readers as well as having enviable language knowledge. Ask the CEO for whom an interpreter helped sort out a cultural and terminological misunderstanding that threatened to lose the company a deal with several million pounds. Ask the doctor who worked with an interpreter to be culturally-aware enough to give a patient the right treatment. Ask the speaker whose interpreter prevented him from making a big, but accidental cultural mistake.

 

When human interpreters work, they don’t simply function as walking dictionaries. They take what is said in one language, try to understand its meaning, tone, and purpose and then recreate it in another language in a way that will work in that specific context.

 

The only way that machines could ever do that would be if meetings and events were just about stuffing information into people’s heads and human beings always said exactly what they meant in a completely neutral way. With the current emphasis on the importance of delegate experience and our newfound awareness that people are more than just robots, it makes sense that we would realise that their communication deserves to be handled by experts, not machines.

 

So the next time someone tries to persuade you that you should let machines take over the interpreting at your event, just remember: for information processing, use a computer; for experience and expertise, work with humans.

Is Your NDA Working Against Your Business?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 29, 2017

Non-Disclosure Agreements: for many businesses, they are a fact of life. If you have IP to protect or confidential information to keep safe, it is likely that you have a template NDA stashed in a folder somewhere that you ask anyone working for you or with you to sign. But is your current NDA helping or hindering your business?

I am no lawyer, so I won’t even attempt to give a legal view but, having had to read and sign my fair share of those documents as an interpreter, I have seen some companies get it right and others mess up. Let’s talk about how to mess up an NDA.

No matter how amazing your business, as long as you aren’t MI5 or the NSA, you probably don’t want your NDA to insist that all translators or interpreters working with you must refer every single terminology issue back to you. If you trust them enough to ask them to work with you in the first place, it makes sense to trust them to do terminology and background research in a way that will not jeopardise the confidentiality of your sensitive information.

A more sensible approach, which is thankfully becoming more widespread, is to draw a line between commercially sensitive information (which should never be disclosed unless there is a legal imperative to do so) and general information. Someone checking with a colleague what the French for “left-handed spark plug” is unlikely to have a negative effect on your business. Someone telling your competitors how many you sold last year just might!

Similarly, event managers do need some leeway to tell their suppliers about the nature and purpose of an event. If your NDA says something like “no information which comes into the provider’s possession due to the assignment may be passed to any third parties”, you have just stopped them actually making the event work!

 It will always be vital to get a legal view on the strictness of your NDA but, at the same time, do ask your providers what levels of disclosure are reasonable and necessary for them to do their jobs. If you don’t do that, you may find them completely unable to deliver the service you are paying them for!

Why Chemistry Counts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 21, 2017

Who would you rather refer work to: the over-achiever who deliberately isolates and insults everyone they meet or the person who does good work but is much easier to work with? Would you rather book the arrogant diva or the hard working and helpful supplier?
Eventually, no matter how good someone is at their job, if they have character issues or are just plain mean, they will discover a ceiling to their success. People like to work with people who are pleasant to work with.
We all have colleagues who are great at their jobs but poor at working with people. Eventually, people like that find themselves passed over for assignments and wondering what has gone wrong.
Whatever profession you are in, you are in the people business. That’s why chemistry counts and why it will always be worth the hard work to learn how to build and maintain relationships.

The Ultimate Interpreter Brief

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 12, 2017

If you organise or manage international events, this is for you.

To celebrate The Meetings Show 2017, I am pleased to offer the Ultimate Interpreter Brief, an absolutely free template, with no catches. It is entirely white label for you to add your company logo to and covers all the details needed by interpreters, agencies and consultant interpreters. On a single A4 Microsoft Word form, it holds the kind of information that would normally take days to finalise.

And it is yours for free.

But I can go even better than that.

I know that not all event managers and organisers are used to working with interpreters, so I have provided a completely free 10 minute tutorial on how to use the Ultimate Interpreter Brief, including some useful hints on best practice. And that is yours for free too!

If you would like any further information or to book me to provide interpreters for an upcoming event, click on this link.

Here are the links you will need.
The Ultimate Interpreter Brief template is here.

And this is the youtube tutorial:

Why I Only Offer On-site Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: 

It is a trend that is both incredibly promising and incredibly controversial. Remote interpreting, where the interpreter can be located absolutely anywhere and yet still interpret for your event via a phone call or online platform, has become big business and is set to grow even more. So why would any consultant interpreter not jump at the opportunities it offers?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I can see the benefits of remote interpreting. With the growth in virtual meetings and the never-ending need for interpreters in dangerous situations, remote interpreting will enable business and save lives. I really do welcome its growth. But it also represents a trend that I have strategically chosen not to follow.

 

In modern, high-tech remote interpreting, interpreting is sold as a service that clients can dial into any time, with no particular commitment. That is great for some clients who might only ever need an interpreter for one conversation or who might want a bit of linguistic assistance here and there. It is not so good for those of us who are pushing for interpreting to be seen as a partnership.

 

In my own research and practice, I have seen how powerful it can be when speakers, interpreters, audience members and event organisers work together closely. While instant, remote interpreting is good, I have seen even better, longer-lasting results from being in the room, reading the situation closely and understanding the needs, wants and motivations of all those involved – the kind of involvement that is impossible when you aren’t physically there.

 

While in the past, having interpreting at a meeting was a marker of prestige, we are now fast arriving at a fundamental division in the profession. On one side, there will be interpreting as a service: slotting in seamlessly where needed and available at a touch of a button without any commitment. On the other side, there will be interpreting as partnership: delivering not just accurate interpreting but interpreting that is keyed to each particular context, audience and goal. In the former, interpreting will be incidental, there because of a transient need. In the latter, interpreting will be there not just because of a need but to provide real, lasting, ongoing value.

 

I have decided that the core purpose of my business is to be the person clients can trust to bring together teams of experts who are as committed to the success of their events as they are. From where I sit, that simply isn’t possible with any kind of interpreting delivery platform, with their automated sorting and emphasis on speedy choice.

 

I sincerely wish the developers of remote interpreting every success but I won’t be joining them.

 

If your business could do with someone to build you an interpreting dream team that you can work with again and again, it’s time we talked. Drop me an email for a free, no obligation chat.