On The Apprentice on BBC1 (June 22nd 2011) the candidates were asked by Lord Sugar to source products to sell to retailers large and small in Paris.

What the episode most clearly demonstrated was that most of the candidates had no grasp of the language or culture of the French. The Apprentices’ lack of language skills stopped them getting appointments and sales, and those who did show their language skills (Melody) failed to have any cultural understanding of the French as a nation.

Does this reflect the attitude of British business?

British business in general, along with a fair amount of the population, has the attitude that English is the universal language and that translation or interpreting is of little relevance to them. I think that last night’s Apprentice demonstrated that to do business with the rest of the world we really need to communicate with them in their own language.

There’s a huge difference between ordering a sandwich in French and closing a multi-million pound deal

Learning a language to be able to hold business discussions is a huge step above the A-level French you may have from school. The complexity of a sale from an operations, procurement, marketing and legal point of view even in English means that you employ experts to handle the details.

So why, if you’re trying to do the same in a non-English speaking country, would you make it hard for yourself by cutting corners? Using free translation on the internet or a colleague who speaks a little of a language won’t be accurate enough. The most efficient, cost-effective and accurate way is – yes, you guessed it – use professional translators and interpreters (you have a professional accountant, right?).

They’ve trained for years to be able to translate marketing, sales, legal, procurement, engineering and a whole host of other subjects so that you can trust that your communication is conveyed accurately. Using professional translation and interpreting means that you will be able to do business abroad and that your websites, presentations and sales brochures will generate sales and revenue for you.

So will you use professional translators? Or will you be the next to hear “vous êtes viré”.*

*You’re Fired translated into French.

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