Interpreting international business deals

MultiLingual January February 2020 Since ancient times, cross-border trade and commerce were only possible by breaching language barriers.
Ofer Tirosh headshot

Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a professional translation agency. Tomedes has been providing interpretation and translation services to diverse clients and industries for more than 12 years.

Ofer Tirosh headshot

Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a professional translation agency. Tomedes has been providing interpretation and translation services to diverse clients and industries for more than 12 years.


rofessional interpretation services are an irreplaceable part of international business. Since ancient times, cross-border trade and commerce were only possible by breaching language barriers. This still applies today as much as it did in the past. The only difference is in today’s globalized economy, interpreters are needed more than ever.

Why do you need a professional interpreter and where do you find one?

Hire professional business interpreters with specialized knowledge. Professional interpreters are often mislabeled as translators by the general public, but they’re very different professions. Yes, they both transport ideas between languages, but the main difference is that interpreters provide live spoken language support. Translators typically work in a secluded environment, free from distractions and on-site pressure. That is, if you don’t include looming deadlines.

Translators can’t automatically become interpreters. Generally speaking, interpreting takes developed cross-cultural communication skills, advanced listening skills and the ability to deal with tremendous on-site pressure. In short, if translators do want to be interpreters, they’re going to need additional training before they start.

But what makes an in-demand professional interpreter isn’t just language skills. It’s also their background knowledge and industry specialization. In a business context, for example, what you need is a professional business interpreter. Apart from their interpretation skills, they will also have the right background knowledge for a business environment.

Specifically, they need to have industry knowledge along with familiarity with financial and legal terminology. They don’t exactly have to be lawyers, bankers or accountants. Rather, they need to know enough to thrive in a business environment.

Connecting with professional interpretation services

Where can you find the right professional business interpreter? You can ask interpreting-specific firms, or you can request one from a professional translation agency. I know, they’re called a translation agency, but they also provide other professional language services. You can easily request professional interpretation services also.

When choosing the right interpreter, you have to specify what language pair you’re looking for. Common language pairs include English to Spanish, English to Chinese, English to German and so on. You also have to make sure that you’re requesting a business interpreter and not a general language interpreter, assuming that’s what you need.

Make sure they’re also familiar with the industry you’re in — be it in banking, manufacturing, electronics, software or something else. All in all, make sure that you’re running through a checklist to get the right interpreter for the job.

Your interpreter’s specialized knowledge will come in handy

Cross-cultural communication skills are absolutely necessary. A business environment is a multifaceted arena with lots of paperwork and meetings. It’s hard enough to get around this in your home country. How much more in a foreign environment with language and even cultural barriers? This is where your professional interpreter steps in.

One of the many skills a professional interpreter needs is effective cross-cultural communication skills. You may already know the practical knowledge that an interpreter needs. But what about the required soft skills, namely cross-cultural communication?

You see, an international business environment is like navigating a minefield. Yes, there are obviously language barriers, but there are also cultural barriers. Each country, including yours, has its own business culture. These include expected etiquette, customs and a specific way of speaking and conducting yourself.

Don’t underestimate the importance of business etiquette. Even if your paperwork checks out and everything else in the meeting goes well, a cultural and social faux pas might jeopardize everything.

Team your professional interpreter with a professional translator

Whether you’re negotiating with foreign businesspeople or seeking foreign funding options, your interpreter has it covered — part of it, anyway. It’s fair to not expect miracles from your interpreter. After all, they’re still human and there’s only so much they can do on-site.

What I mean is that they can’t translate lengthy and complex paperwork on-site. It’s actually the job of a professional translator to translate multilingual paperwork. As mentioned earlier, professional translators work in a secluded environment free from distractions and on-site pressure.

List of the Top 10 Interpreting Providers

The majority of the top ten interpreting providers, according to the 2019 Nimdzi Interpreting Index, focus almost exclusively on interpreting. However, at least two are more general language service providers.

Which means they can guarantee error-free document translations when you need them. If you have documents that need translation for a business meeting, make sure to also request professional translation services ahead of time so that you and your professional interpreter have the right translated documents on hand.

In-demand foreign languages for international business

The most in-demand foreign languages for international business now, other than English, are Chinese (Mandarin), German, French, Spanish and Arabic. These languages come from leading markets and developed countries. That’s where most of the demand is, since that’s where a lot of developed and established industries are.

While it’s easy to understand why Chinese, German and Arabic are in-demand languages given that they’re regional economic powerhouses, you might be wondering if French is still useful in business. It definitely still is! French is still one of the most spoken languages in Europe. In centuries past, French was the official language of international diplomacy. Times have changed now, but it still holds its weight in international business and diplomacy.

Regarding Spanish, many Latin American countries are boasting notable growth rates. That presents major opportunities for businesspeople who want to have a foothold in emerging markets.

But if you’re looking for an English to Spanish translator, try not to look for a general one. The Hispanosphere is extremely diverse, with each Spanish-country having their own linguistic variations, market nuances and business culture. With that in mind, both your Spanish translator and Spanish interpreter need to have local knowledge of your target Spanish country.

Aside from the leading markets and developed countries, you can find equal to even greater success with regional markets and regional languages. To name a notable few, these regional languages are Japanese, Korean and Hindi.

Indeed, Japanese and Korean should belong to the list above since they’re both economic powerhouses. They may not be as global as some others, but having a Japanese or Korean interpreter is one of the many assets you need to capitalize on business opportunities and form business relations in-country.

List of Quick Facts: Interpreters and Translators

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects positive growth for the translation industry, including translators and interpreters. The average growth rate across all job markets is 5%.

As for Hindi, India is one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. Many global companies are taking notice and are already on their way to establish a foothold there before it transitions entirely to a middle-class economy. That might still seem a long way away, but staying ahead of your competition also involves making moves decades ahead of time.

Keep in mind that the global economy changes so fast that perhaps 10-20 years from now, this list might be completely different. Another major regional player to look out for is the ASEAN region. With that in mind, you might see Southeast Asian languages such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesia and Filipino on the list in the future.

International businesspeople should also learn new languages

All in all, breaching language and cultural barriers are an inevitable aspect of international business. In fact, in the near future, language skills might even become the standard in the business school. The rapidly growing and changing globalized economy means that language skills will be a must if the future businessperson wants to stay competitive.

Aside from language skills, they can also learn a thing or two about cross-cultural communication. As you know, business is a highly formal endeavor that also values informal connections. In short, knowing a foreign language plus cross-cultural communication skills is what will help you stay competitive today and prepare for the future business environment.