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Many Languages, One Company, One Voice

Tessa Donato of Mankato’s LinguaOne explains how the region’s language of business is changing rapidly.

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Business no longer takes place in a monolinguistic world.

“The United States is sorely behind all other countries when it comes to linguistic advancement,” explains Tessa Donato, founder of Mankato-based LinguaOne. “Approximately 60-75% of the world’s population speaks, at least, two languages. Throughout Europe, it is not uncommon for people to know four to six languages. This facilitates traveling around the world with ease, networking, business dealings and cultural growth and mutual respect. The United States places less value on teaching world languages, which will eventually make it more difficult for us to do commerce, travel, and connect with people.”

As an example, she cites a recent experience she had while on a family vacation in London, England.

“We bought our kids some pastries at a nearby café,” she recalls. “The woman assisting the customer before us spoke French. Then, she turned to us and spoke English. Then, she turned to her co-worker and spoke German. My son, Johann, got the point she was multilingual, and he switches to Spanish and says, ‘Hola.’ Without a wink, she turned to him and replied, ‘Hola, cómo estás?’ Tremendous! She was fluid upon each linguistic transition all within a matter of less than five minutes. It was quite lovely, and I nearly had tears in my eyes. So, imagine how many customers you can reach effectively and within their comfort level, and provide them with the care that they are in need. Makes for a very loyal client!”

With a rapidly diversifying workforce, in order to be successful businesses must learn to embrace new cultures. That starts with embracing new ways to communicate. It’s happening not only around the world, but right here in our corner of it: southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

“In our region, the need stems primarily from what I refer to as the Three S’s: Spanish, Somali and Sign Language (American Sign Language),” she explains. “But embedded in our communities are so many others like Arabic, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. But what is emerging here and what is really changing is the need for more languages of lesser diffusion…that means they are rare, like tribal languages. One country alone can represent over 50 languages. A little quiz I like to give people is, ‘How many languages do you think exists in the world?’. You would be surprised how many say, ‘100, or 200’. They are astounded when they find out that our world has more than 6,700 languages. So, when we are working with people needing and using language services, we consider many different factors, for instance, what part of the country are they from, what is their social class, what is their education level, how many years have they lived in the U.S., what is their gender? Just to name a few.”

Donato formed LinguaOne 15 years ago. She started it knowing that one day there would be need for mainstream translation and interpretation services. LinguaOne focuses on interpretation and translation, from one language to another. She says the two are often confused. She clarifies Interpretation is the oral transmission from one language to another. Translation is the written transmission of the language from one to another.

She has access to more than 10,000 qualified interpreters and translators nationwide. Services are delivered via three modes: in-person, telephonic and video in over 300 languages, including American Sign Language by certified and qualified interpreters. In fact, her translation services are executed by American Translator’s Association certified translators delivering translations within 24 to 48 hours.

She maintains that of the thousands of ways a business venture can fail, most can be traced back to miscommunication. So combatting that should be a part of any modern-day business plan.

“I would like to reference Maslow. He created the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” she explains. “The bottom of the pyramid of needs is food, water and safety. Yet, communication is quite fundamental, and should really be on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs too. Without these basic needs, poor communication, misunderstandings cause delays in work productivity, and difficulties in work civility. More and more our cultures and language are intertwined and cannot be extracted from themselves. It takes a professional with this level of expertise to facilitate communication, because most of our misunderstandings are due to concepts that do not exist in each other’s cultures. For example, the idea of life insurance. When you are living day to day, and you have food on the table, a roof over your head, and you are not living in fear of being killed, you probably are not going to be too interested in life insurance due to the fact that you are living! Life insurance is not a benefit in a lot of countries, let alone accessible and affordable. However, life insurance is a very important benefit that people who are not from the U.S. need to know and take advantage of to protect their families.”

The services Donato provides through LinguaOne, are becoming increasingly crucial to the way we do business in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. In this region, a majority of her work is with business, education, health care, and legal services, and she says her services are becoming increasingly necessary to Human Resource Departments in a variety of industries.

“Really as our workforce diversifies, companies should get a service like LinguaOne on board early for proactive purposes. For instance, we can help with onboarding meeting and written materials, or any important documents that might need translating, especially if it is a document that requires a signature. This makes it a legal document between both parties,” she says.

“When I’m consulting I take a look at what is going to bring value to the company. So if I know that the main population a business is targeting doesn’t tend to read their own language, then we need to find a different way to send the message. Maybe using a lot of visual could be the method. That’s an important thing for a business to understand. Sometimes a lot of effort goes into trying to write the message but if it’s not the way they are used to receiving it, then the message will be lost or misunderstood. Culture plays a big role. And gender plays a role, too. In some cultures, one gender may have little or no education so that’s a factor to keep in mind. Know your audience.”

Donato is passionate about making sure people know that translation and interpretation are more than just listening to a bunch of words in one language and finding the same word in another language. She explains there are nuances and sensitivity in the way details are communicated to different groups. If ideas, concepts and details can’t be communicated properly, it leads to confusion and that can lead to problems for your business.

“I think a lot of people think interpretation and translation are just words but that is not correct. You have to consider the context, consider any kind of nuance, politics and economics of the time. All of those elements shift people’s meaning and what they are trying to convey. Body language is important as well as tone of voice. Many people think that they can Google Translate an isolated word or phrase and be done! However, translation is much more complex than that.” she says.

It’s a passion that began for her long ago.

Donato fell in love with Spanish the first time she heard it on her elementary school playground in Madelia. She knew then and there that language would be a part of her life’s journey. She studied Spanish and American Sign Language eventually graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato. The springboard to LinguaOne came after her job as a bilingual financial worker with Blue Earth County.

“People kept asking me for referrals for other languages,” she explains. “For instance, someone asked me at that time for a Vietnamese interpreter. I would say ‘well I know of one but I don’t know their credentials and I’m not comfortable necessarily recommending them’. So as people kept asking, I decided I might as well try to branch out and find interpreters and translators I could verify.”

She started by building her network, which meant doing some networking of her own.

“I traveled around to conferences and joined industry organizations taking on leadership roles. It helped me learn more in-depth about interpreting and translation and that’s what I bring to my business.”

Today, her network consists of 30 plus local employees that she stresses she is grateful for their talent and dedication to the field and community. In any given year, she may contract over the 12 months with 250 interpreters and translators from around the world. She ensures all are professional, qualified and proficient.

“The most important role of an interpreter is to facilitate direct communication. When I think of that on a quick, superficial level, it sounds easy. However, when you put it in the context of someone being ill, it is not. For instance, when a person is in pain, or doesn’t have the understanding of what our healthcare system is like, or has never been in a hospital, this can produce a level of anxiety, and fear,” she explains. “These elements interfere with direct communication in many ways. For example, if I am in great pain, I cannot express in much detail the specifics of pain such as where the pain is, an idea of why I am in pain, and words that describe pain such as pulsating, stabbing, pinching, and burning. I may not even know that pain has such detail, I just know that I am in pain. However, in order for a medical doctor to treat pain and get to the root cause, they need to have specific details in order to treat us optimally.

“Or here is another example, I may be working with a lawyer that uses judicial, legal, law enforcement, and insurance terms. Again, these are not a lay person’s way of speaking for anyone, let alone someone who may be an immigrant, refugee or migrant. I need to work with the immigrant’s level of understanding which is derived from their life experiences and their education level, possible level of trauma if any and fuse the level of education and experience that a lawyer has.”

Donato says her business didn’t really “take off” until 2012, but she is proud that LinguaOne has never had a year in the red. Which is an enormous feat since most small businesses fail within five years of commencement.

“Even though over the years there have been lots of peaks and valleys in the economy, we have stayed stable,” she says. “It speaks to my financial gift and ability to negotiate that I didn’t realize I had until I started my own business!”

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Donato says her industry expects 18% growth in Translators and Interpreters over the next few years. She cautions businesses to make sure the person they use is certified and credible. LinguaOne provides training to bilingual staff so that they are better prepared to perform linguistic functions on the job.

“There is the danger of ‘false fluency’. Where a person self-declares that they are proficient in both languages and cultures, yet the person has little to no education, training, nor is tested for their ability. Most cases, these persons acting as interpreters are ad hoc, meaning, they are bilingual, but not professionals who continue to develop their linguistic skills, and uphold a code of conduct,” she says.

It’s not all business though for Donato and LinguaOne.

“One of the fun things we get to do is translate adoption papers,” she smiles. “I hear good stories about that and it brings me joy. Another time we had a customer that found an old letter in her attic that was written in old German. Truly it was from ions ago! It was an elderly woman that had found the letter in her attic while cleaning. I asked her to scan it and send it to me. Well, she mailed it to me, the original! So I was nervous about that. (She laughs) I had it translated and she was just so happy. She took it to her family reunion and read it out loud.

“That was unique because I had to do a lot of research to find that person. It’s not like your typical German translator knows old German. But the search was fun and we ended up finding a professor. She was wonderful.”

Currently, LinguaOne has two offices, one in Mankato and another in Orlando, Florida. LinguaOne’s future goals are to establish offices internationally in Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

What’s A Polygot?

Tessa Donato: “I wanted to share that most of our interpreters speak three languages or more. I have one interpreter that speaks five languages, and another that speaks and writes nine. When a person is multilingual of this nature, they are called a ‘polygot’.”

Training Is Key

A Cross-Cultural Communications licensed trainer provides high quality training for LinguaOne interpreters using the International Community Interpreter Curriculum which covers five modules: Introduction to Community Interpreting, Interpreting Protocol and Skills, Strategic Mediation, Professional Identity, and The Role of the Community Interpreter. In order to become a qualified interpreter, interpreters need to pass an exam with an 80% or higher score, a terminology test, and participate in an Oral Proficiency Interview.

Additionally, LinguaOne offers Medical Terminology training and training to prepare for the national certification exams.

The Science Behind the Linguistics

Donato says aside from communicating, learning more than one language has other benefits, too.

“There are amazing benefits to being bi-,tri-, or multilingual. The cognitive benefits are phenomenal. Multilingual-speaking people have the ability to resolve problems, retain a higher level or information, concentrate better and longer, relationships are flexible, interactive and fluid. In other words, it is easier for us to get along with someone that we do not know. Being multilingual has health benefits such as obtaining friendships across cultural borders, and preventing diseases such as Alzheimer’s!”

And she says, the earlier you start, the better.

“I think it is important to understand some brain science here. As infants, we are born with over quadrillion brain cells. Each brain cell has over 10,000 abilities to connect with other brain cells. When these cellular brain cells ignite, you have supported that infant’s learning. From there, it is like exercising, as long as you exercise that connection, the child will retain what s/he has learned. However, if NO connection has been made, then those cells DIE and we have completely lost learning opportunities. This is called, ‘pruning’. Unfortunately, pruning happens very early in life around the age of five. Children have the capacity to learn multiple languages at the same time! So you can see how important it is to introduce other languages early on rather than wait until ninth or tenth grade.”


LinguaOne, Inc.
100 Warren Street, Suite 323, Mankato, MN 56001
Phone:  507-351-8787

Lisa Cownie

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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