As an American exchange student who had never been abroad before, I joined Peschel Communications for a summer internship. I was in for a few surprises.
My biggest takeaway since being in Germany is the importance of language skills. In typical American fashion, I came here without any prior German knowledge, relying on the fact that my classes would be in English and that allGermans would speak English. To my naïve surprise, since arriving off the plane and asking for directions at the Frankfurt airport, language posed the greatest barrier and still remains the largest factor of “culture shock” I experience.
For whatever reason, I had a preconceived notion that every tram announcement would also be in English, as would every menu and sign. But this was not the case. For the first time outside of a language class, I was expected to speak a language other than English. While it is a privilege for my native language to be the global language, I now truly believe that no foreign market outside the US will ever be identical, no matter how globalized our world becomes.
While the German language was my biggest barrier, I inevitably witnessed many differences beyond language – without having to even leave the Western part of the world. Again, in typical American fashion, I will make grandiose, stereotypical assumptions from my glimpse into German culture in contrast to American culture. Many Germans tend to be more direct in communication and can be more formal than Americans (hence du and Sie). Evident of a more collectivist society, Germans rely on social welfare programs and public transportation. German culture seems more traditional through shops being closed on Sundays, the dominance of cash payment and normalized adherence to rules and punctuality.
As someone who hopes to work for a multinational company after graduating, I have come to the conclusion that English may dominate the world, but the need for translation will never disappear. Despite studying global markets in the US, it was attending university and interning in Germany that would made the various cultural, historical, political, and economic nuances of the world apparent to me.
American culture, values, and history will never become the homogenous world market and audience. Businesses cannot operate from a framework that merely transfers their specific content into more than one market. Perhaps, my biggest takeaway from my time at Peschel is that translation encompasses far more than linguistics but that products, strategies, references, puns, branding, and visuals have to be translated too when successfully entering new markets (a creative process called transcreation).
This experience has solidified my desire to explore more parts of the world. In doing so, I hope to immerse myself to learn the sui generis aspects that define every culture. I will undoubtedly carry on with me a new perspective and appreciation for translation services that make the world seem so much smaller than it really is.
I had to cross the pond to realize everything I had ever learned was simply American water (culture and social norms). Translators have the task of crossing pond to pond for you so that your entity’s presence can thrive in all target markets.