Integrity Languages


Category Archives: Brexit

The Pleasure of Looking Outwards

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 29, 2018

I have recently attended two events. The first was ScotExport18, organised by Scottish Enterprise. Largely driven from the stage, with a range of inspiring experts and speakers, it seemed aimed mostly at newer exporters – business seeing contact with the wider world as a track to properity and growth.

The second event was an event run by CBI Scotland, that challenged businesses of all sizes to see Scotland regain its position as a trading nation. Variously hashtagged as #TradingNation2018 and #TradingNations2018, it paradoxically had more traditional speeches but provided more spaces for businesses to discuss issues with each other.

While each event was different, the same themes came through in both. Businesses are actively looking to export and at every stage, they need to help of mentors, government agencies and professionals. Expertise exists but is not always easy to find or access and different sectors have different requirements.

While a couple of weeks ago, I pointed to the lack of any specific language industry experience at those events, I now see things slightly differently. Yes, translators and interpreters and their associations do need to step up and gain a voice in the commercial world but the comparitive lack of knowledge of the sector is an opportunity, not a threat.

The media might like to flag up xenophobia and fear but, among large sections of the business community, the opposite attitude is prevailing. Many businesses want to work abroad, creating opportunities and jobs both here and there. As businesses export, economies grow and horizons expand.

So perhaps it’s time to dial down the negativity and turn off the heckling. If the excitement at ScotExport and Trading Nations is anything to go by, there is huge growth potential left in the UK Language Sector. Who’s up for exploring?

#ScotExport and the missing language sector

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 13, 2018

This time last week, I attended the excellent ScotExport 2018 event, run by Scottish Enterprise. Among the useful sessions on building your international network, exporting for the first time and (oh yes!) Brexit, there was cautious optimism in the air that Scottish companies can still find ways to thrive, no matter the economic and political weather.

We heard from immigration lawyers, tax experts, experienced exporters, and even a government minister. We heard about legislation, customs procedures, cultural awareness and even the value of Scottish kitsch (apparently kilts and whiskies still pull in clients).

But there was a topic that was mentioned but had no actual experts speaking. While many of the speakers mentioned the dreaded “Language Barrier” and offered helpful tips about circumventing it (mostly involving alcohol and karaoke), there were precisely zero actual language industry people on-stage. This was a giant elephant in the room.

There are two reasons why that is a problem:

  1. Without the language industry, most exporting and importing stops. From translating manuals and contracts to enabling businesses to negotiate deals by supplying expert interpreting, languages make exporting work. Low visibility for the sector at key events like that one not only does the sector a disservice but risks selling the myth that the UK sucks at languages. Yes, we have a very low rate of second language learning but we have a strong and vigorous language services sector, manned by those rare Brits who took the time to learn other languages and by thousands of nationals of other countries who have made the UK home.
  1. An event on exporting with no space for language experts can lead to businesses getting bad or limited advice. While, for the most part, the export experts said all the right things, some of the strategies mentioned were a bit on the risky side. Yes, you can find an interpreter once you arrive in a country but unless you know where to find the good ones, you are as likely to get a keen amateur as an actual professional. To save their blushes, and their bank balance, it is vital that businesses get the right advice on how to find the right interpreters and translators when it matters most.

Whether you are a business keen to export or a language professional wondering when export shows will feature translators and interpreters, the message is the same:

There’s no such thing as a language barrier; just opportunities to win new markets. When exporting businesses work with with expert translators and interpreters, there are no limits to what can happen next.



And if you are looking for advice on how to best use translation and interpreting as part of your export strategy, it’s time we had a chat. Drop me an email to find out more.

Why Community Counts

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 9, 2016

Millions of people are waking up to election results they did not expect and did not want. Others are waking bleary-eyed in disbelief that the result they wanted but seemed out of reach is here. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, there is change in the air and it will take courage and creativity to navigate it. But it will also take community.


Beyond “Community” as a Buzzword


For the past few years, social media has turned the word “community” into a buzzword. We have gaming communities, interpreting communities, communities of practice, the events community and more besides. In the face of technology that could lead to us living in individual shacks, communicating with nothing but smartphones and Wi-Fi, there is a desperate cry for meaningful, in-person relationships.


That is why community is such a hot topic right now. In the face of isolation, xenophobia, breakdowns in understanding and mistrust, there is something refreshing about being in the same room as a fellow human being. When we get to the point that we can be real and communicate without soundbites or tweets, we begin to realise that we are all still humans, from the newest president to the poorest worker.


The Price of Community is Vulnerability


But the price of community is vulnerability and vulnerability is not something our technologies are built to handle. Steven Furtick reminds us that we can often compare our real-life to the highlight reels that people project onto social media. Online, there is always a message to get across. In-person, there is just us.


The kinds of communities we need cut across the traditional racial or class or political barriers. Perhaps the reason why recent political decisions in the UK and US alike have come as such a surprise is that our technologies and platforms, from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn and Snapchat, encourage us to congregate in groups of the like-minded. In that environment, we only really hear the voices of people like us. In these echo chambers, we become convince that the whole world thinks like us. And then we get a short, sharp shock when it doesn’t work that way.


Diversity in Community


Some of the most valuable communities are those where people come from different walks of life, hold different political and ideological views but still choose to walk together.  I have been on boards of directors where there were disagreements but strong decisions were made. I have been in churches where people who originated from different countries and continents broke bread and laughed together.


If you have got this far and wonder why this is on a business blog, I have a simple answer. If we want our meetings to succeed, we need to build communities not just teams. If we want conferences to have a lasting impact, they need to help kick-start or maintain diverse communities. What if you managed to create an event that knocked-down the echo chambers, the class distinctions and the political fear and brought people together to learn from those who speak a wide variety of languages?

What could a Conference Interpreter do for your business?

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 3, 2016

Great leaders often get frustrated by anything that looks like a restriction on the growth of their business. They push themselves and their staff to find solutions to anything that looks like it might cause their company to stagnate. But often, the most obvious growth barrier can be missed.


Languages: a barrier or a door


One of the toughest barriers faced by any company is a lack of language skills among their staff. People who don’t understand you can’t buy from you. For those who don’t understand your brochures or websites or sales people, you simply don’t exist.


How big is this problem? In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Languages recently estimated that the UK companies lose £48billion per year in lost contracts due to poor or non-existent language skills. In my own work, this year alone, I interpreted for one company who were on the verge of losing a multi-year multi-million-pound contract due to language issues. After two days of interpreting and explaining, they qualified for the contract.


But if languages present a potential barrier, they also present an incredible opportunity. Every language your company speaks literally adds millions of people and thousands of companies to your potential client list. Even the steepest investment can generate unheard of ROI, simply by creating new markets for your products and services.


Where Conference Interpreters Come In


While any company that wants to reach international markets will necessarily have to look at multilingual websites, translating marketing and regulatory materials, and making sure that everyone understands contracts, before all of that you will need to build up a presence and credibility in your target market. Put another way, you can have the greatest product and the fanciest website but if you don’t spend time meeting people in your market, learning about them and presenting what you can do, you are throwing money down the drain.


Where conference interpreters and indeed any interpreters help is that they allow you to communicate face-to-face with potential clients. From trade shows to product demos and from PR stunts to press conferences, interpreters create spaces where two or more groups of people can use the languages they prefer and yet still understand each other.


A classic real-world case happened when a large construction equipment manufacturer wanted to showcase their newest lines to an audience of industry press. In that case, six interpreters, covering three languages, ensured that the presentations were as persuasive in Russian, German, and French as they were in English. The result? Positive coverage in industry press and increased exposure as a result.


Interpreting and Brexit


If you are a UK company trying to make sense of Brexit, the power and potential of interpreting is exactly what you need. You surely don’t want one country to be the upper limit of your growth. Now is a great time to launch efforts to snag new markets, while the doors are still open and the opportunities are still there for the taking.


And if you are an EU company wondering whether the UK will still be worthwhile, the time is ripe for you too. If you get in now, before any barriers are erected, you stand the best chance of establishing a market and place that can continue to provide much needed additional profit to your company.


So what should you do now?

Ask your marketing team to size up one EU country (or the UK) as a potential market. Look at population size, incomes and the like and then begin to plan an event to appeal to this audience. Then, while you are still at the planning stage, get in touch with an experienced conference interpreter and ask them to build you an interpreting dream team, to give you advice, as well as make your event sing. It’s one investment that reaps dividends.


Ready to talk about the potential of interpreting to grow your business, let’s have a chat!

Brexit and the Future of Interpreting Part II

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 30, 2016


I remember sitting in a church meeting once where the preacher was waxing lyrical about the vision of the organisation. Next to me, my wife sat nonplussed. Afterwards, she said to me “what he said sounded great but I was waiting for him to tell me how we were going to do it.”

Perhaps my last post left you in that position. Well, while I am no Nostradamus, I do have a few ideas of how we not only weather this storm but catch a few fish too.


  • Let’s make good headlines


Even before swathes of the UK rushed headlong into Brexit (or something like it), I was arguing that we need to change the way lobby for status. Arguing that we are necessary is a very limited strategy. Arguing that we make a positive difference isn’t.


This is even more important now. We need to immediately begin pushing (suitably anonymised) stories of what it is we do and how we make a positive difference. In a news world dominated by political wrangling and falling shares, people are hungry for good news. Let’s give it to them with both barrels, advertising that we are still open for business and still adding to the UK and EU economy.


In fact, this is the very thing that Prof Ian Mason was arguing for at the current Critical Link conference in Edinburgh. So, here it is, from today, I challenge all interpreters to post anonymised stories of the difference they make to their clients and tag it (on facebook, twitter or Instagram) with the #visible1nt hashtag. Let’s take hold of our own PR!


  • Let’s get organised


No, I am not in favour of an interpreters’ union. Instead, I want to suggest that we create networks, both locally and nationally, to make it easier and simpler for clients to get in contact with great interpreters. Let’s construct ready-made teams that can bid for the congresses, fora and negotiations that will doubtless come up. Let’s tell clients how they can find expert interpreters in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, in Liverpool, in Manchester, wherever and however they need them and let’s partner with people in related services.


Also, we desperately need to start regular interpreter meetups to encourage and help each other. I will be creating one in Edinburgh (click that link). If you send me a link, I will add yours too.


  • Let’s create


We need to be driving positive change and the only way to do that is to get together and brainstorm, thinking wild and free about what might be possible. Then we need to get ours heads together with national associations to implement the things that the industry really needs. No one else is going to change our profession except us and our associations.


  • Let’s find opportunity


In his book, Power to Create, Tim Redmond talks about two kinds of business people. One kind, when faced with a big problem, go into a steep nosedive of worry, doubt and fear. If they recover, it’s by some miracle but their confidence is never the same. The other kind of businessperson sees the same problem but refuse to be knocked out by it. In his words, they “hover” over the problem, praying about it, thinking about it, reading about what others did in similar situations – refusing to let it go until they find an answer.


For people like that, every problem is just a new opportunity to grow. If it sounds like a cliché, it is because it almost feels too good to be true but it isn’t.


Take me, for example. As well as being an interpreter, I am an interpreting researcher. In the early days of my PhD, I would hit the floor at every problem and bump in the road. Funding denied? Cue two days of whining and moaning. Book unavailable? Cue at least an hour of complaining. You get the picture.


Eventually, I realised that that is a loser strategy. I never grew and complaining never helped. Slowly, painfully, I learned the skill of bouncing. Yes, rejection and problems still hurt. This week, I heard about another funding rejection, which still stung. But it didn’t take me all day to get back on my feet. There truly is a way to take even the most unpromising result and make something of it. If there wasn’t, I wouldn’t even be here to write this.


Does Brexit still hurt? You bet it does. Can we afford to let it cripple us? No way.


Interpreters, we have a duty to our profession, to our fellow professionals, to our countries and to ourselves to face this down. Let’s make good headlines, get organised, create and find opportunities together. No one really knows where the Brexit wagon is heading but I know that interpreter can find a way to make the world a better place while it trundles along. Who’s with me?

Brexit and the Future of Interpreting Part I

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: June 27, 2016



No client, no matter how powerful, can force interpreting into recession. No agreement, no matter how unfair, can spell the end of our profession. The people responsible for the future of interpreting are professional interpreters, and it will always be that way.

Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence, p. 101


When I wrote those words a few months ago, I had no idea how prescient they would become. Within less than a week, my home country has gone from a relatively stable, peaceful set of islands to being a Divided Kingdom, riven by generational enmity, regional rivalries and political upheavel. A simple question “Remain in the EU or Leave the EU” has turned into a Gordian knot. And interpreting is caught in it.


To say that interpreters have benefitted from the existence of the EU is to  state a truism. Freedom of movement of people and capital has created conferences, press events, and policy fora, as well as increasing the need for medical interpreters, court interpreters and interpreters in business negotiations, lobbying meetings and European Works Councils. And, for the most part, despite the often negative press, this has brought incredible economic benefit to the UK. We have literally created jobs, helped deals get done and reduced the cost for medical treatment by decreasing the likelihood of mistakes.


But Brexit is challenging that. Over the past few days, I have read more worried messages about the future of our industry than ever before. Yes, some of us got riled by the rise of technology but I have never seen so many people contemplating leaving the country – an idea that makes even more sense in the light of the increase in racist incidents against nationals of other EU countries.


It’s isn’t pretty but it’s here. Actually, that could basically sum up a lot of changes in the history of interpreting. As my expert colleague Alexander Drechsel wrote not too long ago, interpreting has always seen disruption. From the introduction of simultaneous interpreting to the rise of the tablet, interpreting has found a way to adjust, reinvent itself and somehow come out stronger. Disruption? It’s just history repeating, he says.


He is right. A divided world needs experts in communicating across cultures, nations and tribes. A worried world where people feel like they need to retreat into their own little bubbles needs people who are adept at offering people wider vistas. A world that is threatened by xenophobes and racists needs walking, breathing examples of acceptance of people whatever their background.


I know few other professions as needed today as interpreters. Yes, the sheer complexity of international politics can be and is a boon for conference interpreters. There is no international negotiating table in today’s world without a rack of chattering interpreting booths around it. Few meaningful deals can get done nowadays without an interpreter or four making sure that communication actually works.


Sure, things will be uncomfortable. Absolutely, the old ways (and perhaps places) of doing business are looking pretty bleak but we are mostly small business so we can be nimble decisions that the big players simply can’t. In a matter of months, we can change country. In a matter of weeks, we can get new clients. In a couple of years, we can have a new specialism. We can adapt. Even if adapting hurts.


What choice do we have? Anger is understandable. Fear is almost inevitable but interpreting is a business that can and does survive crises. We already have!


So, while turmoil grips nations, while companies need to negotiate contract changes, while people with different native languages check into GPs, courts, hospitals and police stations, the need for these three professions will remain: loving pastors, wise leaders, and expert interpreters. And the one that helps the other two work across the boundaries of nation, language, and state is interpreting.

To be continued…