Inter-ethnic relations have been a taboo in the U.S. because assimilation has been expected from immigrants and minorities. Assimilation has mainly occurred among people from countries with less cultural and linguistic distances (Anglo-Saxon, Ireland, France)—for whom the term expatriates is used—or among people who are not seen as “others.”
In the last decade due to fast technological advancements such as the Internet, social media, and cell phones, many immigrants are not assimilating. While there is a great level of acculturation to the American way of doing business—mostly by college graduates, immigrants and expats bring and keep their own worldviews, perspectives, and values representative of their first language and culture of origin.
Minorities in the U.S. who live in silos have strengthened their diversities. The more an ethnic group is segregated, excluded or other-ed, the less it assimilates. Diversity is a positive aspect. It enriches any company, organization or team. Silicon Valley, Tech Venture Capitalist, Paul Graham explains, “United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population; it stands to reason that most of the world’s best new ideas will be thought up by people who weren’t born here.”
The challenge is when communication styles clash let alone the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. It results in misunderstandings, frustration, decreased productivity and lower morale. We all have seen this!
Recientemente recibí la siguiente pregunta sobre la traducción del termino “cross-cultural” al español.
“Hola Mari: Me parece muy importante que hagas la diferencia. Sin embargo no me queda claro la traducción al español de ‘cross-cultural’ es ‘croscultural’? El problema podría radicar en que ‘cross-cultural’ e ‘intercultural’ son términos que son usados con el mismo significado en francés y español pero no así en inglés.”
Esta fue mi respuesta:
“Gracias por tu nota. Yo uso el mismo termino en español “cross-cultural” sin traducir. De esa manera se indica y aprecia el significado único de cada termino. Dependiendo en las preferencias de estilo al escribir, también se podría usar “croscultural” sin la doble “s” ya que el español es una lengua fonética y no necesita dos eses. ”
De acuerdo al Profesor Asistente de Marketing (Mercadeo) en la Escuela de Negocios de la Universidad de Chile, Sergio Olavarreta S. Ph.D., “cross-cultural” no se traduce para enfatizar el aspecto comparativo de este. Olavarreta añade que, “el prefijo trans- en español tiene acepciones diversas y no es equivalente” en su articulo titulado, “Aspectos metodológicos en la investigación cross-cultural.”
New technology is not the greatest threat interpreters face today. Most interpreters have accepted that new technologies are here to stay and they are adapting to them. The greatest challenge for interpreters continues to be the fight for professional recognition represented in fair pay, benefits and working conditions. Professional interpreters expect salaries comparable to similar professions.
Most interpreters have slowly adapted to remote interpretation. Video remote interpreting has been praised by end-users–mostly hospitals–and also by conference interpreters.
For those who have refused to join large remote interpreting corporations, new technology and the need for training is not their major concern. They complain that the largest corporations have done very little or nothing to upgrade their professional standards and working conditions. Many interpreters resent these corporations for using new technologies to lower the interpreters’ profile to call centers.
Last year, I interpreted for the Organization of American States-Inter-American Commission on Human Rights‘ week-long strategic planning discussion sessions, hearings and broadcast conference. This was my first experience interpreting for a high-level, international meeting. I met OAS-IACHR’s Secretary, Commissioners and staff, some of whom had been ambassadors and saw first hand their impactful and inspiring work. I was teamed up with a colleague of mine. It was an intense, exciting, and very rewarding experience.
Initially, I was scheduled to work all five days, but because of the competitive bidding process interpreting agencies go through in order to reduce costs, a less-expensive interpreter was hired in my place. However, by the end of the first day, I was told that that interpreter was not able to continue and was asked if I was still available. I began on the second day. The “less-expensive” interpreter I was replacing asked me if she could stay to observe me. I told her that I didn’t mind. Thankfully, she left after an hour. She was a California court-certified interpreter, but was unable to work at a high level conference.
Conference or simultaneous interpreting requires a unique set of skills. CETRA’s blog explains, “Simultaneous interpreting is complex and demanding. It requires listening, understanding, sharp memory, accurate structure, inflection, and syntax, as well as a mastery of key terminology. Additionally, a command of two cultures is necessary to interpret idioms and address the audience in the correct register–formal and informal. Because simultaneous interpreting happens in real-time, there is no room for mistakes.”
Most conference interpreters have master’s degrees in interpreting. Others have master’s degrees in a related area plus professional training from a certificate program. The foundation of my training has come from interpreting at community meetings and my degree in intercultural relations. For me, interpreting is a natural way to operate requiring the ability to perceive a message from two different perspectives without changing its meaning. My favorite settings are international conferences, executive and official meetings and business presentations, training sessions, and community events.
For more information about my interpreting services and scheduling, please email me.
By Mari D. González
I conducted a series of training sessions last year for a company whose employees are close to 50 percent Latinos of which about 30 percent are not fully bilingual. The communication across cultures is as challenging for English-dominants as it is for Spanish-dominants.
Several Asian-American employees also work for this company. Their communication style is different from Americans as well as from Latinos which enriched our training activities and discussions.
At the end of the mixed-group training sessions, I asked participants to brainstorm on what they had learned and what has worked for them in the past that they can apply when communicating with someone outside their primary culture and language.
My question was, based on what you have learned during training and from your own personal experience, what do you recommend when working with people from different cultures?
I wanted the “takeaways” to come from them instead of me. This is what they came up with:
- Have a positive attitude.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions.
- Use “yes or no” questions.
- When unclear, ask again, paraphrase and repeat.
- When something is critical, communicate face-to-face.
- Use non-verbal communication such as hand gestures.
- Ask for help when needed; simply say “I need help.”
- Talk slowly, not necessarily louder.
- Avoid the use of slang.
- Show it instead of telling it.
- Use pictures and visual aids if possible.
- Give a warning upfront if your second language skills are limited.
By Mari D. González
I completed a translation project over the weekend and felt satisfied to deliver my work before the deadline. My client who does not speak Spanish fluently celled immediately to ask me to edit my work because she had found a mistake.
She discovered that in previous translations I have used “1ro” to abbreviate “first,” but this time I used “1.o” instead.
Why the change?
I wanted to follow the Royal Spanish Academy‘s (Real Academia Española-RAE) standard. In doing so, I confused my client and it is very likely that I’d have confused the intended audience who are more familiar with “1ro” too.
While in Mexico the agreed abbreviation for “primero [first]’ is “1o” without the dot or the “r” in between, in the U.S., the most common abbreviation is “1ro” which emulates “1st.” Both deviate from La RAE’s standards to accommodate to national preferences.
Because in intercultural communication as in translation meaning matters more than literal interpretation, I corrected my translation to follow not La RAE’s recommendations, but my client’s suggestion.
Assimilation is a process in which people with a different culture of origin completely adapt to the culture of residency, leaving behind traits from their culture of origin. That has been the expected social standard in the US. Yet, Latinos have not and will not assimilate. Latinos and Americans are “acculturating” to each other. Acculturation and assimilation are two different terms and should not be used interchangeably.
By Mari D. González
Published at DTC Perspectives on September 16, 2014
As a professional medical interpreter and a cross-cultural communication consultant, I find cultural contexts the most challenging and fascinating aspect of translating between Spanish-dominant patients and English-dominant doctors during medical interpreting assignments.
Cross-cultural communication refers to the comparing and contrasting of different communication styles based on culture. One of the basic tenets in cross-cultural communication is the influence of our personal and social identities on the way we communicate.
If we are dominant in one language—in the case of monolingual speakers—or more dominant in one language than another—in the case of Spanish-dominant or English-dominant speakers—a particular cultural programming or set of values, world view, or behavior always dominates when we converse. Harry C. Triandis observes in his article, “The Self and Social Behavior in Differing Cultural Contexts” that “People who speak different languages or live in nonadjacent locations…have different subjective cultures” (1989, p. 506). Our dominant or primary language provides an essential clue into our social upbringing and communication styles.
Spanish-dominant Latinos/Hispanics are predominantly “collectivist” and “high context” due to their group-based identity and their ability to get implied meanings in oral communication. Triandis further states, “Individualists give priority to personal goals over the goals of collectives; collectivists either make no distinctions between personal and collective goals, or if they do make such distinctions, they subordinate their personal goals to the collective goals” (p. 509).
Generally, Spanish-dominant patients lack the necessary knowledge of U.S. culture to completely understand the narrowness, linear-ness, and precision of “individualist” or “low context” communication. On the other hand, a medical provider or physician whose primary language is English may often get frustrated by the expansiveness, circular-ness and all-over-the-place “high-context” communication style of Spanish-dominant patients.
The medical interpreter, in her role as cultural broker, performs a delicate balancing act: She has to explain to doctors that the patient is giving the context for his or her answer while explaining to the patient that the doctor is looking for a precise, specific, and short answer. Impatience is the doctor’s natural reaction to a perceived overload of information. This need for exactness is crucial in the financial, accounting, and technology fields, but it is not always recommended at the doctor’s office because impatience does not help in building trust. It results in patients not asking the right questions or reporting inaccurate information due to a fear that the doctor may get upset.
People from collectivist cultures, such as Spanish-dominants, value harmony over confrontation. Harmony is an essential value if you come from a large and extended family. Maintaining harmony and balance is a requirement to keep large groups functioning. Furthermore, people from high-context societies sharply scan emotions and grasp what was not explicitly said. It does not matter if a doctor smiles at the patient while being impatient. The emotion and what he or she implied was perceived first.
To mediate this exchange of low context and high context communications, medical interpreters find themselves repeating the doctor’s linear and precise questions to patients who typically give the whole context by using stories and not answering with a yes or no or with a specific number. Most patients eventually understand that their doctors are looking for clear-cut information, but they do not always understand why the rest of the information is not as important.
Let’s not confuse a basic-to-intermediate-level of fluency in a foreign language with understanding the culture of those who speak it as their primary language. Applicants for jobs as health care providers may include fluency in Spanish, or any other second language for that matter, among their qualifications, but that may indicate nothing about their “cultural fluency.” Cultural fluency is gained through socialization or a constant association with those who speak a different language, which promotes a sense of shared comfortableness. If language fluency was acquired indirectly through media such as CDs, DVDs, books, or even through courses that are devoid of people from that culture, the cultural fluency that allows one to perceive differences in communications styles will be lacking.