How to negotiate in a foreign language

The recent A-Level graduates, results gripped in hand, are off to the nearest pub garden to celebrate in the bizarre weather recently gripping the UK. I believe it’s known as “summer”?

What’s next for them? Internship? Overseas experience? Ancient history degree squeezed around stacking shelves in a supermarket to pay of their overdraft?

Some will be travelling to far flung countries, covering themselves in glow-in-the-dark body paint on Thai beaches. Others will choose to do something more useful.

In a career that took me to 22 countries, teaching at 2 universities on short courses and meeting diplomats who lectured in the art of political negotiation, there is one thing that’s saved me time and again. “Thank you”… or merci, or danke, or شكرا لك.

MoscowWhether it’s in a muddy field in the Sri Lankan northern highlands or talking to a heavy gripped henna artist in Morocco, nothing shows someone more respect than communicating to them in their language. So, if you are looking for the skills to see you through being pulled aside for questioning in Beruit airport, or asking for directions to St Basils Cathedral in Moscow, or desperately haggling down so you can get grandma that painting in Cambodia, taking the time to learn a new language can be worth it’s weight in gold.

Language is a leveller, a door opener, a “Thanks mister, I would like two of those fried cockroaches, but please, hold the chilli” lifesaver. Skills like these will work for you in a meeting room as well as a market in Vietnam.



Jaime Burnell has lived in Italy, Kenya and Singapore and loves to listen to the languages spoken whenever overseas. Currently based in London but frequently travelling to the middle east and Europe for work Jaime can usually be found ordering a coffee in another language and hoping she doesn't end up with a piece of cheese. Jaime loves language and believes it is the gateway to other worlds and cultures which the world provides.

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