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UKTI Launches Language and Cultural Awareness Programme for West Midlands Firms

China Lang  Cultural AwarenessWest Midlands firms are being given the chance to gain a valuable competitive edge when doing business overseas.

As more and more companies are dealing internationally, the value placed on cultural awareness has increased.

Learning a few key phrases, socialising effectively, being aware of cultural differences and dealing sensitively with clients from other cultures, can make a big difference to a firm’s success overseas. Independent research by Professor Foreman-Peck from Cardiff Business School estimates that in the UK, as much as £48 billion in international sales is lost every year because of language and cultural ignorance.

That’s why UK Trade & Investment has launched a programme of free, market specific language and cultural awareness seminars. The emphasis is on helping West Midlands companies develop cost effective and successful export strategies with the language and culture of their target markets in mind.

The series kicked off this week (Monday 29 September) with a fully booked session on China – the region’s biggest export market, held at Birmingham & Solihull Chamber of Commerce.

Delegates discovered a range of key cultural elements including: meeting and greeting phrases and customs; dress code; expectations of punctuality; format of business meetings; eating out and how to entertain; tipping customs; gift giving etiquette; business ethics, as well as tips on keeping the relationship going. The approach was very practical with an emphasis on real-life examples and delegates sharing their own experiences.

The session, led by a market specialist, also gave guidance on a range of language issues including, basic phrases, pronunciation and how to communicate with someone with poor English.

When selling a product or service to China, a key consideration is branding. Key lessons for branding for the Chinese market include:

• Make sure branding is harmonious - your brand, design and copy should be in harmony with each other - but should not necessarily appear to be Chinese. ‘Made in Britain’ is a strong brand advantage.
• Be accurate. Literal translations may lose their meaning in Chinese and at worse may cause offence. You should be careful to translate your brand accurately.
• Be bold, confident and direct with your branding. It’s not about being brash, but being clear with your message. This may mean there is no place for subtlety in your packaging or advertising.

Edward Pawley is the Business Development Manager at Simworx, Kingswinford - a firm that designs, develops and mamufactures 3D and 4D dynamic simulation attractions and 4D effects cinemas.

Edward says:

“The China session was extremely informative. We got lots of cultural do’s and dont's, such as it’s rude to give clocks to a Chinese person; and it’s polite to gulp down an alcoholic drink in one go, rather than sip it.  We also picked up lots of useful tips for business etiquette and we were taught some basic phrases for everyday situations.  While I will certainly be hiring a translator when I visit China, the phrases I’ve learnt will help make a good impression. I would encourage anyone interested in a new market to come along to one of these market specific awareness sessions – worthwhile and enjoyable!” 

“We currently export to the Middle East, Europe, and the USA, but China is now a key target for us.  Earlier this year, we exhibited at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) trade show in Beijing, and will be attending again next year in Hong Kong.”

Tim Toft, owner of Stone based fine violin dealer and restorer - Tim Toft Violins - also attended the China session this week.

Tim says:

“We started exporting in a small way nearly 20 years ago and then took part in UKTI’s Passport to Export programme. We are now regularly exporting to Korea and Japan but our next target market is China. This is an exciting opportunity for us, as China is potentially our biggest market because of its size and the cultural interest in learning and playing the violin. We’re heading out to Shanghai next week to attend the The Shanghai Music Fair so the language and culture session on China this week has been very timely.  

“Its given me some very important insights and tips about business dealings that could make all the difference to our chances of success. For example, I had no idea it’s seen as rude to give or take a business card from someone using only one hand and that both hands are needed so as not to cause offence. We also learnt about the importance of first impressions and how the first greeting must be with a friendly open face, but not showing too much emotion. A big advantage of the session was that it was given by a native Chinese person. She also gave some basic conversational Chinese lessons and help with pronunciation.”

The programme of language and cultural awareness sessions is being held over six months at venues across the region. Each session is led by a market specialist:

Japan: 2 October, Shropshire Chamber of Commerce, Trevithick House, Stafford Park 4, Telford, Shropshire TF3 3BA. After lunch, delegates will be given the opportunity to meet with Japan expert, David Mulholland, export marketing specialist, based at the British Embassy in Tokyo.  There will be an extra session in the afternoon as David will be introducing firms to a new online platform for UK Exporters.

Germany: 16 October, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, Commerce House, Festival Park, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 5BE.

Arabic countries: 29 January 2015, Black Country, West Bromwich Albion, 430 Birmingham Road, Walsall WS5 3LQ.

Turkey: 17 February 2015, Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, Chamber House, Innovation Village, Cheetah Road, Coventry CV1 2TL.

Spain: 3 March 2015, Hereford & Worcestershire, Coomber, Brindley Road, Warndon, Worcester WR4 9FB.

There will also be a session on ‘Overcoming Language and Cultural Barriers’ on 12 November, at the ICC, Birmingham, as part of the Explore Export event taking place during Export Week (10-14 November).

UKTI’s language and cultural awareness programme is being coordinated in this region by Gerti Willis, UKTI West Midland’s Language and Culture Adviser.

Gerti says:

“We know that communicating well makes all the difference in giving companies a competitive edge. To be successful in international business you need to minimise any misunderstanding about how you behave and what you say.  Cultural awareness and basic language training is a simple, cost effective and long term solution for many businesses. Our emphasis is very much on getting the most out of a limited budget and equipping key staff with the know-how to deal with business contacts from other cultures, ensures a higher success rate when doing business internationally. I’m passionate about the importance of language and culture, bringing people closer and bridging the gap between individuals and cultures.”

Top tips for language and cultural awareness:

  • Spending time on relationship building is extremely important in many cultures. You may need to visit a potential client several times before a deal comes to fruition  - never try to rush things;
  • Learn a couple of key phases - even if the other person speaks your language, they will appreciate  the effort and you will stand out from your competitors;
  • Web users are four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in their own language, so consider translating your website to attract more international customers;
  • Make sure your written materials are translated professionally. At worst, technical manuals could have health and safety implications if inexpertly translated.
  • Be prepared - learn as much as you can about cultural norms.  People won’t expect you to change your style completely but at least you will know what to expect and you can adapt your approach so you don’t offend. For example:
    • Hand gestures are often used in business settings but these can lead to confusion. Conversing with your hand in your pocket may be acceptable in parts of Europe, but in South Korean culture, greeting someone with a hand in a pocket is considered inappropriately casual and rude;
    • Naming conventions and how you address people are important in most cultures and tend to vary widely;
    • Certain colours, numbers and symbols are significant in certain countries. Getting these wrong could have a detrimental impact on your communications or sales.

Paul Noon, UKTI Regional Director for the West Midlands said:

“It’s well known that among the barriers to exporting are a lack of understanding of language and business culture, which costs the region millions of pounds in lost sales per year.  This important new initiative will help our local firms overcome those language and cultural barriers and help them compete with the best the rest of the world has to offer.”

For further information about the programme of market specific language and cultural awareness seminars please contact Gerti Willis on 0121 607 1942, or alternatively you can send Gerti an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Export Week: UKTI will be holding its 6th Export Week during the week of 10-14 November. Across the week there will be a varied series of events across the West Midlands, aimed at businesses to either start their export journey or increase their international business. For more info follow this link: Export Week.

To find out if UKTI can help your business expand overseas call: 0845 074 3515. Follow UKTI West Midlands on Twitter @wm_ukti.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 12:02

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