07 June 2012

Language always comes with cultural baggage

FT article by Philip Delves Broughton entitled A conversation that translates discusses risk perception in different languages and cultures.

When a corporation decides to address enterprise risk management it clearly needs to do so through the multiple prisms of each participating cultural and language group. Here then is an issue for established risk management teams and translators among others.

Quotable quotes:
  • The relatively new breed of risk professionals also aims to provide the kind of hard intelligence that will pierce what Mr Anderson calls the “perfect place arrogance” that can beset multinationals. Companies with strong national identities risk thinking that what they do at home will work equally well abroad. “They think ‘just because we’ve been successful on Wall Street, we can do the same thing in London, Tokyo and Frankfurt’.” Such thinking can be challenged with trenchant assessments of the risks present in each new market.
  • ... understanding context – more so than language – is the first step in any global risk management plan. In any country in the world, people consider risk in terms of the law, logic and relationships, but in different orders of importance: “In China, it’s relationships first and the law third. In the US, it’s law first, then logic, then relationships.”
  • The greatest pitfalls in managing risk across borders, he says, emerge from assuming too much. When dealing with fellow English speakers, it is easy to imagine that a shared language means shared assumptions – that the English, Americans and Australians think the same thing because they are using the same words.
  • Every word comes with its own “metadata” in different cultures.

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