Posted At: March 12, 2012 12:10 PM
by Margaret Bishop
Rhetoric is defined as “the art of discourse, which is an art that aims to improve speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade or motivate particular audiences in specific situations” (Corbett, 1990). In layman’s terms, rhetoric can be described as using words to evoke a certain response or complete a specific task. Rhetoric and discourse may seem like age-old topics dating back to Aristotle’s time, but they are still important today.
As public relations professionals, we use words to communicate and represent the very best of our clients. Although non-verbals and other communication strategies are also important, without verbal communication we would not be able to complete our jobs efficiently.
Furthermore, global PR has become one of the largest spheres of the profession. In this sense, word choice and the delivery of discourse have become critical — especially if translation to different languages is required.
Rosetta Stone is purchasable software that literally teaches new languages to users of different native tongues. The software is broken down into different difficulty levels and is based on the idea of moving from basic translations to fluency.
Google Translate serves as a convenient online tool that translates words from more than 60 languages. Users can simply copy and paste text into the box and translate it to another language with just a click.
The name Rosetta Stone refers to an actual stone that was engraved with several different languages all communicating the same message. The original Rosetta Stone was used as the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs, thus describing the same message in various vernaculars.
Bilingual and multilingual PR professionals may currently find themselves on a higher tier of the PR world. The ability to speak multiple languages is a highly sought quality that places a special value on the practitioner. Global PR is an important aspect of our field that desperately needs bilingual and multilingual professionals, especially for technical communication tasks.
Desiree Mahr, a public relations professional at Jackson Spalding, uses her multilingual background to her advantage in her PR endeavors and endorses the value of speaking various languages.
“My foreign language background has allowed me to draft copy for the client in Spanish, which extends their reach to a wider variety of publics,” Mahr said. “With the diversifying demographics in the U.S., foreign language translation is becoming even more important to companies — if you’re able to speak a second language, it’s certainly a great asset.”
One of the most crucial principles in learning a new language and applying it to public relations is the difference between translation and interpretation. Translation is described as the literal, written meaning of a word, whereas interpretation is the action of encoding and decoding words verbally in a different language. For instance, someone may not excel at translating languages in the written form, but may be extremely talented at interpreting different languages verbally.
Jim Hanson, a professor of rhetoric at Whitman College, agrees that clarifying a message is extremely important in order to reduce confusion.
“Precise meaning is lost when something is translated, but in a sense that happens any time anyone else receives our words,” Whitman said. “Audiences have different experiences and interpretative modes that make what we say at least a little bit different and often very different from what we intend to convey. When you add on significant cultural and language translations, the difference can be quite large and at times create confusion, unintended disrespect, and a loss in the faith in the communication process itself.”
Because it is crucial to send a clear message when representing your client, it is critical that PR professionals, whether multilingual or not, understand that creating a clear and concise message is a must. Translating and interpreting could be considered as the “noise” within a communication model — the interference in sending and receiving a message.
Learning a new language can not only be beneficial for you, but for your company and your client. With technology such as Rosetta Stone and Google Translate, learning a language can be easier than ever before; however, take caution with literal translations and make sure you are creating a message worth sending.
Source: Corbett, E. P. J. (1990). Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. New York: Oxford University Press., p. 1.