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If You Are Serious About Russia

Get Your Own Interpreter

Since English is the international language of business, Russians, especially the young entrepreneur types in Moscow & St. Petersburg, are rushing to learn it. Some locals might say that they speak English, but beware. There are various levels of command and fluency which could lead to misunderstanding or bewilderment.

If you are involved in a serious business meeting or negotiation it is always prudent to have your own interpreter. And this should not be just any interpreter but one who knows what your goals and objectives are and one with whom you are familiar. I have been in many situations where companies have locally hired interpreters at the last minute and have observed how easy it is for business persons to put themselves at the mercy of an interpreter who can fall into one of several categories:

  1. They speak both English and Russian fluently but are not trained as interpreters.

  2. Some are not capable of interpreting verbatim, so the interpreting might not be precise, leading to other problems.

  3. Some "interpreters" are better at one language and weaker in the other, so they substitute the words they know for the ones you are trying to convey.

  4. Also, it is possible that if you hire an interpreter locally, they might have a bias towards the negotiator from their own country and will skew their interpretation to the Russian advantage.

  5. And, of course, sometimes the interpreter is just plain "bad" and you will have no idea, because you don't understand what they are saying. (Remember you are giving them almost total control over the communication.)

As a bilingual speaker I have been in many situations where I have overheard "interpretations" which didn't even come close to what the speakers were trying to convey. Luckily, in some situations, I was able to interrupt and bring the communication back to center ground. At the same time I have become keenly aware how utterly vulnerable a business person can be in a country where they don't speak the language. So some rules of the road:

  • Remember - just because someone is bilingual it does not mean that he or she is a qualified interpreter.

  • Know your interpreter - and make sure that you have built up some rapport with them and that they understand your overall purpose in the communication you are about to undertake.

by Barbara Chronowski

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