Don’t hire me because of my language competence

Yes, I’ve always been a language lover.

But when I began university I realized speaking many languages wouldn’t make me a translator—a professional translator, at least.

If you are thinking about translating your content, this article might help you.

Discover why hiring a translator just because of their language dominance is not always the best option.

Learning a language

Although English has always been my first working language and the first language I learnt, my first language-related trip was not to an English-speaking country. 

It was to Greece.

Thanks to a school grant I traveled to Macedonia to learn Modern Greek and more about this people’s culture.

I was 17 and about to finish post compulsory secondary education in Huelva, my home town. 

I loved ancient Greece’s history and language, its culture, art, myths…

It was a true gift. 

So, when I politely asked a lovely waiter if I could have a tiropita and the tiropita never came, I felt disappointed…

What a rude man! I thought the Greek were friendly people…

I was confused.

Maybe I did not pronounce it correctly so I tried again.

But the tiropita never came.

What was happening?

I didn’t understand anything…

And that was the key, my dear friend! 

Even though I studied a lot and could speak their language, I didn’t understand him. 

Communication failed. 

The reason?

Cultural incompetence.

In fact, that kind man told me “No” —that there were no tiropitas—but I understood “Yes”… 

Why?

Because I didn’t know that when the Greek move their eyes up and their head in a gesture quite similar to the Spanish—and American— gesture to say “Yes”, they are saying “No”!

This is a very simple example of cultural differences amongst peoples.

But simple things make the difference.

(It could have been worse if I wasn’t prevented from calling a taxi “in the Spanish way”—the Greek Moutza…)

By the way, you might be wondering what a tiropita is…

tiropita
Greek delicacy

Communication is not just a matter of words

When we communicate, we are showing others much more than we think.

A whole system of beliefs, behaviors, traditions, values… our heritage is being displayed. 

And in most cases, we don’t notice it. 

But a professional does.

There’s a difference between someone who learns and can speak a language and a professional who not only masters a foreign language, but the context in which that tongue is spoken.

Cultural competence makes the difference

Translators, interpreters, copyeditors… language professionals are those who apart from linguistic have also cultural competence.

We are intercultural mediators.

But what makes us truly professional is our human ability to be in constant learning and development.

Professional translators are those kids who learnt to learn and became learning lovers, eternal apprentices.

Our job is not only helping different communities get in touch, but to make them understand each other. 

So please, when looking for your co-driver to land in a new education community, make sure you count on a professional who not only speaks their language, but understand them.

As an educator working in a multicultural environment, have you experienced any culture-related situation you would like to share?

How did you solve that situation?

Did you count on a professional language and culture mediator?

I’d love to read your experiences in the comments!

P.S. I couldn’t find a picture of myself having a tasty tiropita, so I’m including this one in the archaeological site of Philippi, at the northwest of Kavala.

Ines-in-philippi
Me at Philippi’s Agora

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About the author

I worked as a foreign language teacher and a translator for several years, but I still felt there was something missing.

Then, I became a mum and everything changed. I knew I had to come into play to let my child enjoy a different learning experience.

So I founded Edutopian Words to help creative education communities get in touch, collaborate and share their work for the sake of a better world.

Learn more About me.