Language in International Business

Language in International Business

The Multilingual Reality of Global Business Expansion

Rebecca Piekkari, Denice E. Welch and Lawrence S. Welch

Language matters in international business and global business expansion inevitably mean encountering challenges of communication, language and translation. This book presents a thorough and rigorous analysis of language related to all aspects of global business – international management, networks, HRM, international marketing, strategy and foreign operations modes.

Chapter 2: Translation

Rebecca Piekkari, Denice E. Welch and Lawrence S. Welch

Subjects: business and management, international business, strategic management


In a multilingual world, translation is an ever-present reality–in business, government, personal and social interaction, and communication. And it matters! Just ask Hilary Clinton, the former US Secretary of State. In an attempt to say, in a vivid manner, that the new Obama Administration was concerned to start afresh its relations with Russia, at a meeting with the Russian foreign affairs minister, Sergey Lavrov, Hilary Clinton presented him with a box that had a red button on the top, which he was invited to push. The idea was to symbolize a re-setting of the US–Russian relationship. She even suggested to him that they ‘worked hard to get the right Russian word’. His response was blunt: ‘You got it wrong . . . It should be perezagruzka . . . [not] peregruzka, which means overcharged’ (Elliott, 2009, 22). The literature on language is littered with examples of inappropriate translations and their consequences–in part because of the inability to place a translated communication within its relevant cultural context, illustrating the reality that translation cannot be simply disconnected from culture (Welch et al., 2001). However, sometimes the translator saves political face: ‘When a Hungarian leader receiving a ceremonial welcome in Sierra Leone was referred to as the President of Bulgaria, it was the interpreter who, without missing a beat, corrected the error’ (Jaivin, 2013, 3).

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