Meeting foreign cultures

To fully participate in the business world of tomorrow, knowledge of language and culture needs to move beyond English.

Bonsaitreet er for mange et symbol på japansk kultur. Om man ikke kjenner...
Bonsaitreet er for mange et symbol på japansk kultur. Om man ikke kjenner kulturen, forstår man heller ikke bakgrunnen for avgjørelsene som tas, mener førstelektor i japansk, Benedicte Irgens

Main content

This is one of the focuses at a large-scale conference in Oslo in March, which focuses on internationalisation – Internasjonaliseringskonferansen 2012. The University of Bergen (UiB) is one of the co-sponsors of the event.

A decent product alone is no guarantee for success in international trade. Understanding the culture, the society and the language of other countries is just as important.

Kuvvet Atakan believes so and the Vice-Rector for Education at UiB suggests that these are only a few of the reasons why this conference is so vital. The main theme for the conference is to strengthen the ties between work and higher education globally.

BRIC rising

– Traditionally, Norway has mainly co-operated with the EU and North America. These relations developed due to centuries of shared language, culture and social developments, Atakan says.

But the times they are a changin’. In his lecture at the conference, Atakan will emphasise global development trends and focus on languages that may become more important in the future.

He mentions the rising power of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), who are all experiencing such rapid growth that their respective languages may become as important for future trade relations as English, Spanish, French and German have been in the past and/or in the present.

Lost in translation

– Language is more than grammar and vocabulary. If you use English to connect with people from a reasonably distant culture to your own, a lot may be lost in translation. It may get to a point where you don’t understand the motives underlying the decisions being made, Benedicte Irgens suggests.

Irgens is Associate Professor at UiB’s Department of Foreign Languages and co-ordinator of Japanese studies at UiB. Her lecture at the conference will focus on the importance of Norwegian-Japanese collaborations.

– No single language can lay claim to being a shared language for all. We need to remind ourselves that English is a much more difficult language to learn for the Japanese and the Chinese than it is for us. By learning East Asian languages, we can meet these societies on their home turf, she says.

Big on Japan

This is not to say that students, who choose to study Japanese necessarily are doing this with a business career in mind. According to Irgens, this mind-set is more prevalent in students studying Chinese.

– My impression is that Japanese students at UiB do so out of their own account. They are satisfying their own curiosity and are less concerned with how this impacts on their job options in the future.

She believes that increasing interest in Japanese studies is connected to the rise of Japanese culture in films and on the Internet. Many young people are attracted by a popular culture distinctly different from the dominant Western pop culture.

– Don’t forget that Japanese is also the fourth biggest language on the Internet, behind English, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, Irgens says.


Translated from the Norwegian by Sverre Ole Drønen.