Monthly Archives: March 2012

German language and business culture

A highly competitive European market, so patience and persistence are keys to success 


English is widely taught in Germany and Germans pick up English from songs, movies and other cultural sources from a young age.  It should not be assumed that familiarity with English is a given, especially in the former GDR where Russian was the second language, or in dealings with smaller companies and public sector authorities.

Whenever important contractual matters are being discussed it is wise to have an interpreter on hand. When sending information to potential contacts, the introductory letter should preferably be in German and your company brochures should either be in German or contain an insert written in German.

Some Common German Business Phrases

Good day/morning (used until mid-evening) Guten Tag
Good evening Guten Abend
Goodbye Auf Wiedersehen
Yes / No Ja / Nein
Please / Thank you Bitte / Danke
Excuse me Entschuldigen Sie bitte
My name is… Ich heiße
What is the time? Wie spät ist es?

Meetings and Presentations

Whoever represents your company must be a senior manager who can speak on behalf of the company and has the authority to take decisions on the spot. If the person concerned can speak German this would be a bonus. German business people are generally very busy people, so punctuality is expected, and a professional approach is expected. First name terms are not common in German business relationships.

Meetings are generally more formal than in Britain. You should shake hands with all those present in a meeting. Small talk is fine, but only after the important business of the meeting has been concluded. Try to avoid British humour as this could be misunderstood in a preliminary meeting. There will be times and opportunities for a less formal relationship, but do allow the relationship to grow first!  Be patient and polite during your negotiations. You may also have to be persistent.


It is vitally important to be very well prepared for negotiations. Technical specifications and prices are very often discussed from the outset and so you must be in a position to talk about the terms of any proposed collaboration from the off. Although a lot of Germans speak English and enjoy speaking English, many will prefer to stick to German during negotiations. It would be worthwhile, therefore, to bring an interpreter along to the meetings.

Introducing a new member of the team!

We are very happy to introduce Magda Olczyk, our new Project Manager, who started with us last week. Magda is Polish and has an MA in Bilingual Translation from the University of Westminster, as well as MA in Polish Philology from the University of Silesia. Apart from Polish and English she also speaks advanced Slovak.

Magda has lived in the UK for 8 years now, using her time here to immerse herself in the English culture and perfect her bilingual skills. As a student at the University of Westminster, she had excellent opportunities to develop her practical translation and interpreting skills in many fields, e.g. medical and pharmaceutical, technology, science and law.

Magda says: “I was delighted that I could join Linguamax as a Project Manager. My key strength is outstanding language skills in Polish, proven by the MA degree in Polish Philology. In addition completing translation studies in Bilingual Translation has equipped me with the best translation techniques and methods to produce accurate and commercially acceptable texts. I wanted to work for Linguamax because I believed they would help me flourish. While watching their current PM’s dedication and hard work, I realised that working for Linguamax is not about having a job. It is about real passion and true love for languages. I know that at Linguamax I will learn from the best.”

Glad to have you on board, Magda!

Linguamax Featured in HSBC Business Matters

We were really pleased to be featured by HSBC in their March edition of Business Matters. It focuses on our work with freelance translators. You can read part of the story below – the full article is available here:

How my business works with freelances
Grace Azadvar – director of Sidcup-based Linguamax Ltd

Grace Azadvar“My business probably works with up to 200 freelances a year, of whom half would be regulars. It’s a cost-effective solution, one that is perfectly suited to the varied nature of the work my business does.

We offer translation services in more than 70 languages – ranging from Albanian to Zulu. Translation and interpreting from English to Polish, Czech, Romanian, Russian, French, German and Spanish are particular specialities of ours.

We draw upon our vast database of linguists, which we’ve built up since the business was formed in 1995. We also get sent CVs – probably every day – from people offering their services. Sometimes we find new people online or go on personal recommendations we receive.

Quality and accuracy is extremely important when it comes to translation, so we begin by checking someone’s ability by testing them on a short document. If the quality of their work is high enough, their name goes onto our database….carry on reading the article here.

Interpreting – what exactly is it and how is it done? Part 3

Never change a winning team!

Consecutive or simultaneous – the job of the interpreter is, obviously, to convey what is said in one language into another language, as accurately as possible, without in any way acting as an “editor” or a “filter”. That is, if the speaker is rather upset, angry, agitated – whichever – and uses strong language and the odd equally strong swear-word, it is not up to the interpreter to “modify” this in any way, but to use the same sort of language a native of the interpreter’s country would have used under the same circumstances as those of the speaker. It is, after all, the speaker – and not the interpreter – who is swearing!

But a good interpreter may well help a bad speaker: very early on in my career I was very impressed by – and learned a lot from – a female colleague. The speaker spoke in a flat, monotonous voice with no variation of pitch, no life, no pauses – just a steady, boring drone, likely to send the entire audience to sleep in no time at all. My colleague lifted that speech from Level 1 to at least Level 8 by emphasising words the speaker probably intended to emphasise – but didn’t. Where he said, for example, in a flat drone: “This is something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against”, my colleague rendered a “This something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against!” – with an audible exclamation mark at the end.

In discussions there are, of course, no documents, other than possibly the document being discussed. And over 40 years’ experience has taught me that Thomas Nielsen’s Laws do very much apply. Thomas Nielsen was the head of the DanishTUC in the 70s, and possibly 80s, and he formulated his two Laws as follows:

No. 1: “Someone having something to say, giving a positive contribution to a discussion, needs about 8 to 10 minutes to say it. Someone having nothing to say or contribute, but wants their name in the Minutes of the meeting, needs at least 15 minutes, and someone who does not even know what the discussion is about needs about 25 minutes”.

No. 2: “The duration of a meeting is directly dependent on the ratio between the participants’ lung volume and brain volume: the larger the former, the longer the meeting will last.”

If you organise multilingual meetings on a regular basis, and you have found interpreters you, i.e. all the delegates/listeners, are happy with – stick to that team! No matter where in the world the meetings might be held. Time and time again companies or organisers feel it is too expensive to fly the same team of interpreters all over the place – and hire some locally because it costs less. Only to discover that the local interpreters – who are probably as excellent as any – are unfamiliar with that specific terminology, the delegates’ way of expressing themselves, and not having interpreted at the previous meetings of that group, do not know the whole background of what they are talking about. The result is that some delegates get very little or no benefit from the meeting – calling it a “waste of time”.

By using the same team of interpreters for all your meetings, the interpreters and delegates get to know each other – both becoming familiar with each others’ way of speaking, the specific terminology and subjects, to the benefit of both parties.

Guest blogger: Tore Fauske