Why Communicating in Politics is All About What You Say And How You Say It

When it comes to politics, what you say and how you say it matters. This is especially true if what you are saying needs to cross language barriers. And in today’s world, it’s fairly likely that you are addressing a diversified audience. As an expert linguist, I have found this to be particularly true.

Last Friday, Houston’s Mayoral candidates squared off in a televised debate. Like any debate, the candidates were given the opportunity to present their strategy to the voting public, a public that has grown increasingly diverse over the years. In fact, Houston has been ranked as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country, making multilingual communication a must.

We Live in a Multicultural World
The numbers don’t lie. The world we live in today is rich with cultural influences from all corners of the world. This is especially true in Houston.

Consider this – according to the United States Census Bureau, in the city of Houston, nearly 44 percent of residents are Hispanic or Latino. Harris County alone represents the second-largest Hispanic population in the country, second only to Los Angeles County in California.

It is also worth noting that an estimated 28 percent of Houston residents are foreign born – which amounts to upwards of 604,470 people. With roughly 71 percent of foreign-born residents coming from areas in Latin America, it is safe to say that, when it comes to communicating to the local masses, a multilingual approach is necessary.

Why Language Matters in Politics
After interpreting Friday’s debate with Telemundo Houston, it struck me that, in politics in particular, language (and the way we interpret it) is increasingly delicate. It’s not just about context – the cultural implications when translating or interpreting from one language to another are significant. At the end of the day, the task at hand is to create understanding, which can only be achieved through effective, relevant communication.

It’s more of a challenge than you might expect. Language is tricky. You must consider time, place and other facets of context, and how they relate to the language at-hand.

Let’s take Friday’s mayoral debate, for example. Seven candidates were tasked with presenting their message and making their case to the greater Houston market. Although the city is home to a number of different language speakers, the common tongue locally is English. Whether you speak Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese or another international language, you need to understand what is being communicated. Whether it’s a political strategy or the nuances of a candidate’s personality, it needs to be able to be communicated across multiple language channels.

That’s why what you say, and how you say it, matters in this (debate) situation – because, in Houston, language professionals working with political language need to disseminate information to nearly 30 percent of the city’s population. What if a word or phrase does not exist in the other language? It is the translator or interpreters job to fill those gaps. After all, without careful language interpretation, there can be no understanding. Without understanding, how would voters be able to make an informed decision?

The Golden Rule: Always Remain Objective
Just as objectivity is a key principle in journalistic integrity, it is critical when it comes to politically charged language interpretation. Remember, in the professional realm, there are no political allegiances or agendas – there is simply language and the ability to communicate.

The best we can do as language professionals is assist in creating understanding for an increasingly diverse population. Language is power, and that’s why what we say, and how we say it, matters so much.

Flor Dimassi, GlobalSpeakWith more than 18 years experience in translation and interpretation, Flor Dimassi, CEO of Global Speak Translations stays on the pulse of what is happening in the international oil and gas arena. She turns language and cultural diversity into business opportunities for her clients. Learn more atwww.globalspeaktranslations.com.

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