Lost in Written Translation; The Benefits of Oral History

benefits oral communication

Document translation and translating for written communication is definitely necessary in many situations. Such as translating birth certificates, marriage certificates etc. for moving countries, applying for visas etc. But there are also times when live interpreting is preferable and indeed much of what we can communicate is through the subtleties of speech, tone, body language and more that doesn’t ever become a part of written communication. Or indeed written history. In days gone by, when fewer numbers of people could read and write, our history was passed on orally; through stories around fireplaces, mealtimes and family celebrations. While this left exaggeration and facts open to the teller of the story, it led me to considering the benefits and bonuses this method of communicating history had within it too. There are more than two sides to every story, perhaps oral history offered some of this that written history doesn’t.

One of the largest benefits of oral history, is that it allows for different parts of information and varying perspectives to live on. In some ways, this might be a truer or fuller representation of a major historical event. While a history book can contain the correct facts and dates, based on documents, newspapers etc., the people living through that time may have known or seen events or partaken in elements of the ‘story’ that aren’t officially documented or recorded anywhere. Their personal recollection and retelling of an event can potentially include anything from what the smells were, to the atmosphere or what was going on amongst the masses that wasn’t seen as important enough to be written down.

Another element of history being passed on orally, is that it allows for questions. Writing something down, you remember the parts you always remember best. But being asked questions by a listener with different interests or angles, can stimulate memories you may have thought you’d forgotten. Encouraging questions can keep deeper memories alive and bring them back to the surface to be passed on the the next generation.

Likewise, in corporate translation services, your best bet will not always be written communication. Sure there are apps that can help you translate for emails and messages, but these aren’t always entirely accurate. Even having business communications professionally translated leaves elements of oral communication by the wayside.

For a big pitch or an important meeting, you’re going to get more through having a professional interpreter present. Brief them on the important things you want to get across, imply etc. and let them bring numerous dimensions to your pitch. A professional interpreter understands the nuances and subtleties and is trained and experienced in making sure this is all relayed. It’s never just about the words.

If you’re working with companies abroad or selling online to non-English speaking markets, take this into account for your next big pitch or meeting. Bring everything you’ve got to the communication that’s going to bring you forward and reap the rewards.

Feel free to share your thoughts or stories you’ve gained through oral history within your family or friends in the comments below. Let’s keep those special memories safe.

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