Being trilingual doesn’t mean you’ll get across. Regina tells us why.

Cup of coffee with notes from studying Spanish

Being “lost in translation” is a common experience for anyone learning a new language, or even trying to communicate in a familiar one to someone of a different background.

Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle
Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle

Trilingual in Spanish, English and German, Regina Schmidt Rio-Valle specializes in multilingual communication in Sports Law and the sports industry, having earned a Master’s Degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Georgetown University, among other accomplishments.

I asked Regina about being trilingual, how it helps her in planning communication, and working with a diverse set of clients.

How did you become fluent in Spanish, English, and German and stay fluent?

Growing up in Spain, I have always been fascinated by languages, probably because my dad was German and most of my siblings are bilingual. I started learning English at a young age and soon after followed French, Portuguese and Italian. 

Spanish, English and German are the languages I actively use every day, so they are the ones in which I feel most comfortable.

Maintaining proficiency in any language, even your own mother tongue, is hard work! You need to read, write and speak it on a regular basis. Particularly professionals in our industry must continuously hone their written and verbal communication skills.

Do you feel being trilingual gives you an advantage?

Working with several languages definitely has many advantages. First of all, it allows me to read and learn in different languages, opening up endless possibilities. Secondly, it gives me access to insights in many different cultural backgrounds, which is priceless if you want to reach target audiences in a way that truly moves them.

What’s the best way to create good business relations with someone of a different background?

My main advice is to not take anything for granted and to work with experts who know both cultures well and who can guide you through potential pitfalls. It is a wise investment.

If you are interested in operating in an international setting, you should definitely try to learn more about working with different cultures. 

7 Tips for working with different cultures

  1. become aware of your own culture first, 
  2. observe without judgement, 
  3. learn the language and always work with professional translators and interpreters,
  4. if you have questions, ask colleagues or business partners who have more experience or are from the region you are interested in,
  5. build relationships with people from different cultures,
  6. read as much as you can, fiction and nonfiction. You could start with “Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures” by Brooks Peterson, or “The Culture Map” by Erin Meyer. 
  7. watch TV and listen to the radio. But be careful! Do not fall into the trap of believing that a Netflix series depicts the reality of a country or region. Nobody likes to be seen as a cliché.

It is a life-long process that requires curiosity, open-mindedness and strong commitment. But it is also a wonderful opportunity to grow your business and to develop personally and professionally.

What kind of communications issues do you encounter in the sports industry?

How do you guide your clients?

Sports offer a universal language, but once athletes leave the arena, this industry is as dependent on effective communication as any other business. 

I help clients in this industry reach their international, multilingual audiences by speaking the audience’s language, by crafting messages adapted to their cultural backgrounds based on an effective strategy and a standardised set of procedures. 

I particularly enjoy making sure that their brand voice and messaging remain clear and consistent across cultures, so that we tell their story in their own voice but geared towards a particular audience.

What structure do you use in strategic communications planning?

I use many tools and skills that I acquired at the Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. I particularly like the Georgetown Strategic Framework (note: see this post for more on the Framework) to develop communications plans. I firmly believe that successful communication is based on the right combination of facts and creativity, and the Strategic Framework helps me access the facts.

Even if I know an industry quite well, going through the different stages of the Strategic Framework helps me organise my thoughts, collect essential data and get insights that I might have missed otherwise. 

For example, as I was developing a communications strategy for a translation agency, I discovered that their main competitors could become strong allies in the face of technological shifts that are disrupting the market. I also identified employees and partners as a relevant public who needed to be engaged, something they had been ignoring for years. Taking those people for granted meant that their freelance translators, their most important asset, did not feel any commitment to the agency, were willing to work for other language service providers and in some cases, even preferred to do so.

The work we have been doing to engage freelance translators has helped the agency to improve its standing, regaining their trust and loyalty.

What are some specific problems you have solved with strategic communications?

I have had the privilege of working with amazing people and organisations. But every single project and client is exciting in some way. I love showing clients what a good communications strategy can do for them. And I definitely enjoy seeing my clients reaping the benefits of our work together. 

One of my clients, a law firm specialising in sports law, was not sure about joining social media. They were concerned about appearing frivolous or too casual. After putting together a well thought out communications plan, I could show them that social media can also be used for serious businesses. You simply need to find the right tone for your business and make sure that you are communicating with the right publics. 

In their case, it was particularly important to adapt their contents and language for each individual public, as they needed to connect with other sports law specialists but also with non experts. One of our great achievements has been ensuring that lay people understand what the law firm actually does. The firm has also been able to demonstrate the success of their work and to engage effectively with peers and current and potential clients.

Where do you see yourself going forward in your career?

Although I enjoy working on my own, in the future I would like to come together with other communications professionals, be part of a team and work toward a common vision. We are better professionals when we are part of a group of people who challenge and inspire us. 

Regina is a public relations and communications consultant based in Switzerland, the heart of Europe and home to numerous International Sports Federations. After spending over 15 years in high level multilingual communications, she firmly believes that nuance provides added value to communication. She helps clients build trust and credibility with multilingual audiences. Regina is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Master’s of Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. rsrv.ch

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