Communication Breakdown Overcoming Culture and Language Barriers

Topics: Gear, Hobbing, Gashing Pages: 9 (2434 words) Published: October 6, 2011
Communication Breakdown

If you’ve read any business publications lately, chances are you’ve seen an article or two covering language and cultural barriers in the global marketplace. Buzzwords like “globalization” and “global supply chain” frequently come up in discussions on training, networking and economic growth. At least once a week, a headline triumphantly declares a company “lost in translation” due to language or cultural missteps. According to, the English language remains the most popular when conducting business abroad. It’s the most widely published language, it has the most words and it’s spoken by the most non-native speakers. Many business professionals, however, are learning it will take more than the English language to remain competitive in the global market. While attendance for Spanish, French and German language courses has risen here in the United States, an increasing number of business professionals are also learning Arabic, Japanese, Russian and Chinese Mandarin. As the manufacturing community gains prominence in countries like China, India and Korea, many are looking toward Asia for new business opportunities. Companies are working daily with partners, clients and customers around the world on joint business continued

May 2008


ventures, marketing agreements and sales opportunities. Whether selling a grinding machine, marketing a software program or manufacturing components, companies would benefit from knowing the role language and cultural barriers play in today’s business economy. Recruiting from the local talent pool. Companies like Gleason, StarSU, Gear World and Ticona find that establishing localized sales offices or hiring commissioned representatives helps to eliminate potential language and cultural barriers. It’s a simple solution, one that avoids getting caught in a situation where translation or alternative business practices cause confusion. “We have sales directors at our technology centers in most of our major markets,” says Kelvin Harbun, vice president of Asian sales at Gleason. “This helps to establish sales and

support offices in all the major industrial regions. Typically, our sales and service offices are headed by representatives that know the environment, especially in countries like China and Japan, where knowing the culture is just as important as the language.” Gleason ships products to more than 40 countries around the world. According to Harbun, 75 percent of their products worldwide are shipped out of the U.S. market. He’s fully aware of the challenges presented by working across several continents, but he can’t imagine Gleason not doing this kind of international business on a daily basis. “If we don’t have a sales office in the country, we have commissioned representatives in place to work with our customers,” Harbun says. “These reps have been working for Gleason for years in areas like Brazil, Argentina and Korea.”

To remain competitive globally, Ticona has factories around the world like this facility in Kelsterbach, Germany.

Similar concepts are carried out at Star-SU. The company uses English as their business language, but will speak and correspond in German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese if necessary. Brian Cluff, vice president at Star-SU, says business practices differ from country to country, so their system is tailored to support experienced professionals from each and every culture. “We do 50 percent of our machine tool business with companies overseas, doing business in Russia, Poland, all of the European Union, India, China, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Argentina,” Cluff says. “Cultural differences are addressed by in-country personnel who are experienced with doing business in their native country.” Gear World S.p.A. is a manufacturing project launched by the Carraro...
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