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What exactly does the role of a European services advisor involve?
What we do is help companies optimise overseas opportunities. That means if a company is interested in going into a new market, we will help them find out how their product fits into that market. If they want to expand their market, we’ll try and find out what they need to do. We help to make sure that the messages they’re communicating to the customers are what they mean them to be. For example a company in Austria had the slogan “am Ende der Straβe” which can be translated either as “at the end of the road” or “at journey’s end”. We would make sure that this was checked so the company didn’t embarrass themselves. On another level, we help on marketing consultancy. Not market research, as that’s just figures, but things like finding out whether or not people really want the product or service. Taking Italy as an example; the Italians are so protective over their children that you can easily create a product that they would deem too harmful. Whereas in Sweden and Norway they want their kids to be much more independent.
So would you say that part of your job is to have a sense of how countries differ in the way they would interpret things?
Very much so.
How else do you use your languages in your day to day job?
I mostly try to commission research and get the reports in the local target language because that tends to reveal the truth more than a translation which may or may not be a good one. I also use my language skills in sales.
How are languages useful in sales?
They are absolutely essential. This is something that people simply don’t get. You cannot ‘up-sell’ or ‘cross-sell’ if you don’t have an understanding of what your customer is interested in.
What do you most dislike and like most about your job?
What I most dislike is trying to convince people that you have to get to know your customer. It is frustrating as they tend to believe that if a product works in one place it must work the same in another. This is because most people who work in exports have never lived in another country. When they go on holiday their experience of that place is merely what has been supplied for the British tourists. That’s the thing I hate most. The thing I love most is having insights into other countries. I personally feel almost at home in places like the Alps.
Do you believe you could have done the job you are currently doing having not travelled as widely as you have?
Impossible. It is very much a matter of being the eyes and ears of companies and unless you know what you’re looking for you can’t get it. Recently on a trip to Italy it was interesting to see how little some of my colleagues who didn’t speak Italian could glean compared to me. Their transcripts were simply wrong.
On a more personal level, did you ever envisage where you were going to end up in your life?
No. It has taken a totally different path! I always wanted to be a commercial pilot at British Airways. If I had got into that I would have been deliriously happy. But I think I have been able to gain an inner confidence by coping in other countries. People underestimate this. Going through a country where you don’t know the language and managing to get a job and apartment – you feel great.
In terms of business and international companies, do you think that languages come in any other form?
Let’s put it this way: I personally would never employ anyone who didn’t have at least two languages on top of their mother tongue; one of them being English. From my point of view I think sometimes companies do not place enough value on languages as they should. These communication skills are so vital in business but people seem not to get it.
Any plans for the future? Want to learn any other languages?
Back to Austria hopefully. I’d like to learn Gaelic since I live in Scotland! But on a serious note I wouldn’t rule anything out. Even If I ended up in Bulgaria I would not hesitate to learn Bulgarian.
Would you agree that it often doesn’t seem to occur to tourists to make an effort and learn the language?
Yes definitely. When I went to Austria it was simply automatic to me that I would learn the language. I came across native English speakers who just didn’t have a clue where they were living. They got nothing out of it except from the money.
To end on a more general question: How do you keep up with international current affairs – it being a key element to your job?
I use always Google alerts for business intelligence and keeping correspondence with my various friends around the world!
By Maddie Kilminster
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham