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Why Translators & Interpreters Should Consider Cross-Cultural Training

by Neil Payne

The translation and interpreting profession is without doubt mainly powered by freelancers. Although there are great benefits to working as a freelancer, it can also be tough. Many find the isolation difficult, the work monotonous and the pay sometimes not all that desirable.

Being a freelancer allows you to do what you like with your own time and thus freelancers who find solely working on translation or interpreting difficult should start thinking about side-lines.

Some teach language, some write, some even do office work to keep things interesting or to increase the monthly wage. However, an area many linguists should consider moving into is cross cultural training.

What is Cross Cultural Training?

In short, it is providing training courses on culture and cultural differences. For example, a course might be country-focused with a trainer helping professionals to better understand the business culture of China or how to negotiate with the Chinese. Another course might be working with a multicultural team to iron out communication challenges and working practice differences to help them find common ground. Yet another may be tutoring politicians on the appropriate etiquette when meeting diplomats from a foreign country.

There are many forms cross cultural training can take, but in essence all of them are geared towards helping people use insights into culture, cultural differences and cultural understanding as a way of bringing down barriers which may impede fruitful relationships. Addressing stereotypes, personal bias and prejudices as well as understanding other cultures’ drivers, beliefs, motivations, quirks, humour, etiquette, mindset and worldview is essentially about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to operate in or with another culture(s).

What does a Cross Cultural Trainer do?

There is much more to being a cross cultural trainer than delivering training courses. As well as organising, planning and writing course content, trainers also spend time with peripheral activities such as talking to prospective clients, submitting proposals, carrying out evaluations and assessments, researching, attending conferences and carrying out administrative tasks such as marketing, bookkeeping and client management.

Similar to the translation and interpreting sector, a report on the intercultural training profession found that most cross cultural trainers work as freelancers and carry out work outside of the training field. The report indicates that trainers either feel the work isn’t enough on its own, they want to do more than training or they simply use training as a side-line to other interests.

Most trainers, until they become a brand in themselves, will start off working with training companies as freelancers. As and when a training company receives a request from a client for a particular country, culture, region or problem they contact the trainers best suited for the client.

Types of Cross Cultural Trainers

Before becoming a cross cultural trainer, most come with a specific knowledge that they hope to apply to the training world. This is usually country, regional, occupational or sector specific knowledge. This gives the trainer their identify and their niche.

As well as professional trainers the industry also welcomes other roles which usually ties in with their place of work and experience. Examples of these include:

Why Linguists Make Good Cross Cultural Trainers

Firstly, not all linguists will necessarily be a good match for training, although many bring natural skills to the table that lend themselves to the possibility of moving into this type of work.

Cultural Knowledge – linguists are bilingual and as a result usually come with a deep understanding of two or more cultures. Study of language usually means visiting foreign countries and traveling, as well as understanding the often-unseen elements of a culture.

Academic Knowledge – most translators and interpreters usually complete an MA before plying their trade. At least most attend university at undergraduate level with equips them with the tools to read, research and understand the academics behind cross-cultural communication.

Business Knowledge – this is perhaps the area where many linguists may struggle – real business experience of working within an organisation and all the machinations involved. As most people who undertake this training come from the business world, it is crucial that trainers are able to deal with practical business issues.

Writing Knowledge – a high level of literacy is needed in order to pull together programmes, courses and proposals but luckily the vast majority of translators and interpreters come ready equipped with this due to their experience.

Teaching Knowledge - being able to inspire, educate, teach and command a room are all skills vital to delivering good training courses. If you are unable to connect with people and mentally open doors for them, you can’t be an effective trainer.

What Does a Cross Cultural Trainer Earn?

What you can earn again comes down to the type of trainer, level of experience, who you work for and what training you deliver.

Someone with 10+ years’ experience of training plus in-depth business knowledge is potentially going to earn 2, 3, 4 or even 5 times more than someone who trains at a lower level.

The majority of trainers operate as self-employed, run small businesses or as freelancers. They may see hourly fees between $100-$500 per hour, or daily rates ranging between $500-$2,000 depending on level, experience and seniority of course.

How to Become a Cross-Cultural Trainer

People from many walks of life end up as cross cultural trainers in very ways. Some start out their careers as language teachers and then move into cultural training; some leave the business world to start out something new; some go the academic route and others simply fall into it.

Here are some practical steps to consider

Read – Find a reading list; there are 100s of books that cover the topics of training and intercultural communication. Also spend time researching some of the big names in industry and read about their theories.

Join SIETAR – Find your local Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research and join up. This is a great way of fast-tracking yourself into the industry as you will meet not only trainers, but training companies, academics and many others working in the field.

Go travel – If you plan to become a country-specialist then it vital you go and spend time there to learn more about it, see more cities, meet more people and gain more in-depth understanding of the culture.

Take a Course – For those without any formal training experience there are now organisations that provide specific training courses for those wanting to become cross cultural trainers.

Get Experience – It is very important to gain any practical training experience as you. If that means working for a relocation company, shadowing a cultural trainer or becoming an admin assistant for a training company then do it.

How you become a trainer will very much come down to who you are, your current level of knowledge and experience. It is important to first decide on what type of trainer you want to be and from there form a plan of action.

About the writer

Neil Payne spent 10+ years working in translation and localization before setting up Commisceo Global, a training company specialising in cultural awareness training and consultancy which helps clients gain access to and work in the global marketplace.

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