My wife and I recently celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary (thanks, you can still send gifts, if you like) by spending 12 days traveling in Europe. We spent a few days visiting several places in Italy, Greece and Montenegro.
Now, you might be aware of the fact that the people in these countries primarily speak languages other than English. Ich spreche ein bissen Duetsch, but no Italian, Greek or Montenegrin (yes, that’s the official language of Montenegro). No big deal really. Ultimately, between hand gestures, us figuring out the important words (toilette, etc.), and really not needing to have significant conversations with most people, we did alright. We got where we needed to go, saw what we wanted to see and ate what we wanted to eat (we had no problem saying “gelato”). However, a previous visit of mine to Brazil required a translator to help with the language barrier, because what I and the others present were trying to communicate was far more complex than asking “where’s the bathroom?” It was real dialogue and couldn’t take place without a translator. We just couldn’t communicate our ideas without their help.
As I was considering languages and interpreters, I thought about how it parallels what we often do in PR and other communications disciplines. Our clients want to communicate a message, be a part of the discussion, change perception and more. They come to us because we know their audience(s), whether those in a specific industry, community of enthusiasts, given geographic location or all of the above. We know the “language,” what will resonate, how to deliver the message for maximum impact and how to keep the conversation going.
Also, think about the use of idioms, and the role they play in language. There are serious mental gymnastics involved for an interpreter to communicate “on the fly” in another language. If they translate it literally, it makes no sense at all to the audience. Now consider some companies you may know that like to talk to themselves as their audience. You know what I mean – internal jargons, terms, emphasizing things they think are important/cool. They know what they’re saying, but no one else does. Our job is to understand their concepts and ideas and translate it all into the right “language” for the audience. Otherwise, the company’s efforts will “run out of steam” from not being “on the same page” with its audience.
What are your thoughts (in English, please)? How important is the understanding of an audience to effective communication?