Editor’s note: “International Business Corner” is a weekly column written by Joan Keston that provides information for people involved in or considering international operations. Keston is an international business consultant. Over the next several months she will be writing about important issues that international businesses face as they compete in the 21st century global business environment.

This article talks about the depth of translations that is needed in international business.

We all know that we need translators at meetings when working in non-English speaking cultures. However, do you know that you need much deeper translations; translations that go beyond the mere translation of words?

Business Concepts

The essence of the business deal must be understood by each side as it relates to their business experience. Negotiations may result in a deal, later to find that there was a misunderstanding or inherent disagreement in the fundamentals of the deal. I have been at many meetings where there were language translations, but where neither side truly understood what the other side was trying to convey.

The size of you transaction and business will often dictate the resources that you can invest in the pre-transaction phase of your venture. This is one of the significant up-front added costs to doing business in a developing country. What may appear to be more costly in the initial phases of your work, may very well be significant in economizing in the long-run and avoiding expensive blunders.

Someone should be present and actively involved who understands business in a developing country for the purpose of translating the essence of the ideas, issues or terms being negotiated and translated. That person will assist in ensuring that everyone is discussing the same deal. They are sensitive to the controlling and influencing forces that are present in the business environment, and will assist in assessing the importance and affects of business terms and how to best minimize risk.

Legal Concepts

Attorneys are also needed who are trained in both cultures when doing contracts for international deals or business, and translations of transactional documents. The “transactional attorney” is a fairly new arrival in terms of a specialization in the practice of law in most developing countries. The attitude of business people towards attorneys in general is quite different from their stature in international business in industrialized countries. Often attorneys are brought in at the very end of a transaction because they are viewed as an impediment rather than a pro-active resource. However, their involvement is key to understanding the legal aspects of the business environment to at least determine that you have a valid, enforceable contract. Many legal notions and freedoms that we take for granted must be translated into the legal reality of the culture where you are doing business.

Added Costs

Translations that encompass both the language and the business environment may be a significant added cost for you business venture. However, this cost may turn out to be a very wise investment in the long-run.

About the Author: Joan Keston is the Managing Principal of Keston & Associates, Ltd., an international business consulting firm located in Raleigh, NC, and a Partner at Paladin and Associates, Inc. She has 25 twenty-five years of experience with mature as well as entrepreneurial companies, domestically and internationally, coupled with an executive managerial and legal background. Her firm facilitates international business transactions, and assists companies establish, grow and integrate their international operations. She can be reached at (919) 881-7764 and jkeston@kestonassociates.com.