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Bridging Language Barriers on Conference Calls

Communication is a key element in all successful business dealings and there is nothing worse than having a conversation where one of the parties ends up confused or misunderstood. It is becoming increasingly common for companies to do business or have staff that doesn't speak English as their first language. With the nuances of language, it is easy to have misinterpretations due to poor translation. When conveying messages that entail a lot of details, you will want to make sure your message is crystal clear, especially when it comes to tasks and deliverables. If you are conducting business via international conference call with people who aren't native English speakers, you have a couple of options to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

  • Have a translator on the call. Hiring a translator to repeat what you say in the dominant language of the participants can be extremely useful. It is important to have your call agenda in place so that the translator will know what the call entails. Remember to also give them short bursts of conversation to work with rather than talking for 10 minutes, and expecting your translator to be able to translate verbatim what you have said. Ideally, you will work with your translator in advance to find the best system.
  • Have the call transcribed. Having a transcription of your call is an easy way to make sure that everyone has a copy of exactly what was said. This transcription can be translated into various languages and given to your callers. This will make it even easier for them to read back to clarify any questions that they might have.
  • Create a CD or mp3 of the call that is translated into the language your participants require. This way they can play it back, rewind and listen to the call as many times as they need to in order to understand the nuances.

When speaking to someone who does not speak your language as their first language, it is also very important to avoid colloquialisms, slang, or specific sayings that might not have any meaning, or a completely different meaning, to the person that you area speaking with. For example, in the UK they use the word trousers instead of pants, and when someone says pants, they typically mean an undergarment. If two English speaking cultures can have such vagaries in the meaning of a word, imagine what could happen with someone who inadvertently mistranslates a phrase or word into another language.

Bridging the language barrier while conducting business is never easy, but it is necessary in today's business world. Business is not just done in our own back yard anymore and with the increase in non-native English speakers doing business with native English speakers, having a system in place to make sure that everyone is on the same page is important. Using a few simple and effective tools to ensure that everyone understands the conference call will decrease the likelihood for misinterpretations, save time, and increase productivity.

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