Class is in session! Today, we’ll be focusing on multiculturalism. As our society becomes ever more “globalised”, so do our values, ideologies, and ultimately, our businesses. Within the Market Research sector (and furthermore, in Translation) in particular where client-focused communication is paramount, what can we do to make our companies and studies more multicultural, and more pressingly, why should we and what are the positive changes it can bring about?
First things first: what exactly is culture? It may be a commonly used word that we all know and use, but explaining and analysing it in practice is another matter. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term culture as, “[uncountable] the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organisation of a particular country or group”. That is to say, culture does not just belong to individual nations or ethnicities as we commonly envision it to. It is a broader spectrum that covers age, race, social class, and a plethora of other groups we humans could be classed into. Note the usage of the word “uncountable” in the definition – both grammatically and figuratively speaking, it truly is!
That leads us onto the next page of the textbook – what is multiculturalism? Again, the term sounds simple – a mix of cultures, surely. In essence, yes, but we can delve deeper than that. The OED states it as, “the practice of giving importance to all cultures in a society”. In other words, it is not simply the mixture of different cultures, but the act of ascertaining that each one is given an equal amount of respect, understanding, and importance in one shared space.
But aside from the technical definition, multiculturalism can suggest a variety of things to individuals, and often evokes a range of strong feelings; some positive, some negative. Some naysayers believe it does more harm than good – columnist Leo McKinstry has even argued that the “fixation with multiculturalism is dragging us into a new dark age. In many of our cities, social solidarity is being replaced by divisive tribalism, democracy by identity politics. Real integration is impossible when ethnic groups are encouraged to cling to customs, practices, even languages from their homeland.”
However, as a translation company… we know better than that! We are of the opinion that actually, it’s not a problem to maintain your customs, practices, and languages. That is, as long as you are able to simultaneously accept, respect, and value the cultures of others, we can co-exist, broadening our minds and horizons and opening doors not just to ourselves, but to our fellow humans.
So, how many nationalities can you count at your workplace? Humble brag: here at GlobaLexicon, we are immensely proud to be able to offer more of a bespoke service to our clients in different regions given our wide range of nationalities (27 and counting) spanning across the UK, USA, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Romania – and more to come!
But just why are we so proud of this? The list of reasons is frankly endless. In general, multiculturalism allows us to be more understanding and tolerant of our differences, inspiring mutual personal development and teamwork; it increases creativity and adds flair to our vision; helps us to keep up with today’s rapidly globalising workforce; to learn or strengthen foreign languages (and at the same time one’s own native language, fortifying those brain cells); develop a broader picture of reality… when do I stop to take a breath?!
I could go on, but I’d rather allow my colleagues to share with you some of their thoughts and more concretely, what our multicultural working environment means to them:
Xun Li (originally from China, working in London): "One of the benefits of working at GlobaLexicon is that we have so many lovely colleagues from different cultural backgrounds, which means we can hear lots of interesting insights. I really enjoyed sharing Chinese mooncakes with them during the Mid-Autumn Festival and learning more about the delicacies in their respective countries!"
Ludovico Trippini (originally from Italy; working in Seville): "As an Italian working in Spain for a UK company, multiculturalism is part of my daily routine. Speaking Spanish in the office, typing emails in English while helping colleagues with queries related to Italian: switching back and forth from one language to another is challenging but I am loving it.
I thoroughly enjoy discussing linguistic items with other members of the team, as well as getting tips on local cuisine and new experiences to try to help me develop. In short, I could not have asked for a more exciting company to be a part of!”
Marcos Simabuguro (originally from Brazil and of Japanese heritage; working in London): “Living in London - a city that people flock to from all over the world - can be quite overwhelming sometimes, but I find it crazy that we often take this aspect of the city for granted. A 5-minute walk on any busy street downtown will expose you to the sounds of so many different languages. Isn’t it amazing to think about all of the doors that speaking a 2nd (or in my case, 4th or 5th?) language can open? If you’re lucky enough you can start working in a company like GlobaLexicon and have that experience amplified!”
Lovely, interesting, challenging, exciting, amazing, lucky – all sound like positive ways to describe multiculturalism in the workplace indeed.
Multiculturalism in Market Research
Of course, by now, you should be under the impression that multiculturalism can assist us all. Let’s now look in more detail at its significance in the Market Research sector, and even more specifically, within the translation industry:
- It produces a better understanding of your target market and subcultures within that market. As mentioned earlier, there are cultures within cultures, and knowledge of how they function is fundamental – this can make all the difference.
- A diverse team leads to diverse research which leads to diverse results. If your team are all (or mostly) similarly educated and of a similar background, this is likely to induce subconscious cultural biases. Moreover, if the research pool is subsequently limited, the conclusions drawn can actually be false, rendering them of little use.
- It vastly improves the way in which you connect with clients and offer customer services. In terms of assisting to and opening dialogues with clients, communication is of the utmost importance as it allows the problem to be explained and thus solved together. It also adds a more humane aspect to your business and highlights how smooth and pleasurable it is to do business with you.
- You can also branch out into new and unchartered territory. Knowing that you have a multicultural team with a good knowledge of numerous aspects of culture can give you the confidence to move proactively into new markets, which can fiscally lead to very fruitful results.
Multiculturalism in Translation
Furthermore, with respect to translation, the connection with culture is clearly visible. Put simply, culture gives birth to language. To those with little knowledge of foreign languages, translation seems a straightforward task. Pants = pantalón (Spanish), thong = Ｇストリング (Japanese), subway = le métro (French).
But hang on a minute… is it?
By “pants”, are we using US English (so, the outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles) or UK English (so… underwear)? “I’m wearing a skirt instead of pants today” could signify two very different things.
As for “thongs”, in the UK we’d interpret this as a skimpy pair of lower underwear made up of strings. However, in Australia, it’s common to use the term “thongs” to define sandals worn at the beach. Imagine if you are doing a market research study in fashion brands and lingerie – a lot of confusion could be had with said mistranslation.
And “subway” may refer to the public transport in US English, but in the UK, a “subway” is simply an underground passage or walkway and the tube is our mode of transport. Or based on context, it could even be the infamous sandwich business Subway – which, international as it is, does not exist or is as commonly recognised everywhere!
The above are well-known examples in the English speaking world, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine all the minute cultural and linguistic differences we have across multiple tongues, and the variety of problems that could be caused when the influence of culture is not taken into account accordingly.
In addition, when it comes to subcultures, the younger generation often use the adjectives “sick”, “wicked”, “bad”, “phat” to denote something positive. This often completely goes over an elderly individual’s head and the original meaning (eg. the exact opposite) is understood. This reminds us why multiculturalism and diversity in a team is so important – even the most cultured individual will often need to rely on others to fill in the gaps of the groups they don’t belong to or know so much about.
All things considered, when brought about with respect and tolerance, it is crystal clear that multiculturalism is the way forward. From the more general advantages such as mutual comprehension and elevated experiences to the specific examples in getting your Market Research study right, the benefits are infinite. Today’s homework: what do you think of the multiculturalism in your workplace, and if it is lacking, what do you think you could do to proactively enhance it? Class dismissed!