So many of us who learn another language do so not because we specifically want to advance our careers, rather, we possess and insatiable urge to travel and speak the language of the places we visit. Many times when we hit the road we rely on travel and tourism professionals to do the heavy work for us while we practice saying our ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s’. Here, I spoke with Petulia Melideo of Context Travel and asked her about the complexities of doing business in multiple countries that speak as many languages.
How does language come into play when doing business for Context?
At Context we help travelers discover new cities with local experts. I am Italian and am very proud of my country, so being able to communicate with our clients and explain the nuances of a particular tour, or the backgrounds of our guides is extremely important. Along with Italian and English I also speak some French and Spanish. This has been extremely helpful when setting up itineraries for clients who were traveling to Paris, Madrid or Barcelona. Speaking the language of the country you are working with puts you immediately in a favorable position, even if you are not perfect!
What languages are spoken in your company and why?
At Context we speak English, Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish. These are the main areas we operate in. At the moment, one of my colleagues is taking German classes and another is taking Greek.
With whom do you have to communicate to conduct your business and why? If they speak a different mother tongue than your own, what are some of the challenges of communicating with them?
Context is an international network of scholars and experts, counting over 300 people. This means that on a daily basis I speak with people from different nationalities: Greek, French, Turkish, Chinese, Americans. While my native language is Italian, being able to communicate in English and other languages is fundamental.
Additionally, I often have to work with local institutions like museums and universities. Working with Italian, the US, and the UK locations is not a problem as I am comfortable in a formal environment, but with other countries and institutions, I feel like I cannot get across the full extent of my message if I don’t have complete control of the language. Nevertheless, I always think it’s worth making an effort. People really appreciate it!
Are employees required to be multilingual?
Yes, knowing a second language is part of our job requirements, along with having lived abroad. We think it’s extremely important, not just for the ability to communicate with others, but because it gives you more of an open mind, and so a greater ability to work with others.
What level of proficiency is required of your employees who work in your pilot offices?
I would say that we require a good to excellent level. You can start from good, as long as you are willing to improve and invest in it.
What difficulties, if any, do you have or have you had in regard to language/communication?
This is a great question! I am lucky because I seem to have an ear for languages. Many people think I am American because I don’t have an Italian accent. However, there are a few words that always trick me, my husband (who is British) is always ready to correct me!
Context states that it wants to foster, invest in, and defend cultural heritage. How do the languages of your destination cities play into that?
Having the right attitude and trying hard to speak at least a couple of words of a language really goes a long way. Making an effort to understand a culture, whether through the language or through an in-depth tour is a great way to be respectful and actually learn about a new place and culture, instead of just going on holiday there. Being polite, being a good listener, and smiling works in most cultures.
Petulia Melideo has been with Context from the start and is the Head of Marketing and Publicity at Context, working from their London office. She is a native Roman who has lived extensively in the U.S. and Great Britain. Petulia has a European law degree from the University of East Anglia (UK).