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Guest blog from Russell Towlson, Towlson Consulting Ltd

You’re reading a blog on an interpretation website. That probably means you’re an interpreter, a translator or someone who needs help with personal or business translation. Either way, Business Language Boutique (BLB) Ltd is probably a very good place to start looking.

How am I qualified to comment on translation services? Well, I’m British and I’ve been living and working in Poland helping UK exporters to find routes to market for over 5 years now. Working firstly for UK Trade & Investments ‘Overseas Business Network’ and more recently the Department for International Trade’s ‘Delivery Partner Network’. To my dismay, I’m still wrestling with the Polish language, one of the most difficult to learn I read, but I would say that wouldn’t I, but here it is in black and white, so it must be true.

But it’s not just the language that is different. Culturally there are many similarities but many differences too, and this is just as true in business culture. Remember that this great country was behind the so-called iron curtain between 1944 and 1989, and whilst this is an extremely entrepreneurial society, trust is something that isn’t easy to learn when you or your parents grew up not daring to trust.

So, imagine you’re sitting in a Warsaw office with a potential business partner. It’s your first meeting and as a British businessman, you’re hoping to at least shake hands on an in-principle arrangement before leaving. That simply doesn’t happen in business here.

Then you find that your Polish/English speaking potential business isn’t quite so confident or competent in translation as you hoped. You miss many of the signals and the cultural nuances that your contact takes for granted as a Polish citizen are not highlighted as being important to you. A professional interpreter or translator would know that these are important, they would not be missed and would be highlighted to you.

Technical language is another very important consideration. I recall a situation where it took three phone calls with a British client company before I understood exactly what they manufactured. Even so, I had to ask them to talk to me in ‘layman’s English’. I was in a meeting with a British company representative with one of my own Polish team cautiously agreeing to try to interpret as “no interpreter was required”. Interpreters take regular breaks because the work requires focus and concentration. Now add to this a whole nomenclature in a technical field that is unknown to an unqualified though a willing interpreter. Some of the words were just not interpreted because the willing, but by now tired and slightly worried volunteer, was unable to deliver what is required.

Now imagine you have a qualified, competent professional sitting beside you who is making sure that you gain not only the spoken interpretation but also the unspoken signals. You don’t miss those all important messages. Now ask yourself, is it worth using a professional interpreter? I think you know that the answer, is it worth not engaging an interpreter?

Russell Towlson, Towlson Consulting Ltd

Russell Towlson, Trade Services Team Director at the Department for International Trade (DIT) in Warsaw, Poland

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