Producing good quality, multilingual, web-oriented text material in a multicultural project: the Passport To Trade case study

Rossi, G. 1, D. Sumpter 2, V. Barron 3, J. Swift 3, J. Silver 3, G. Draper 3, A. Klosová 4, K. Lawrence 3, J. Ridsdale Saw 5

Spin scrl (I), , 2ABS (E), 3University of Salford (UK) , 4 TIS Praha (CZ), 5Stratex (B)

The purpose of this work is to present a methodology to support the production of multilingual training material. Such an activity is very common to many European multicultural projects, where additional value is afforded both by the identification of regional-specific issues in a common European framework and by the availability of the material in a number of different countries and cultural/linguistic environments. In most cases, such projects face two problems. The first is that producing the versions in different languages requires taking into account a large number of country-specific cultural issues. This means that you might not even know what information about your cultural environment is relevant (i.e. different, not banal) for the other national cultures. The second issue is that the material for the different countries must be developed with a comparable level of detail and a uniform style by remote and not always homogeneous national teams. Such issues can make the production of the material (including proof-reading and style correction) a very long and costly process, and even more so when one adds the need for multiple translations. Even worse, each element in the production chain increases the risk of errors being introduced. Linguists and professional translators are very familiar with such problems, but teams working on transnational projects are not always fully aware of their impact and consequences. The EMBER project (“Effective Marketing for Business in European Regions”) and the PASSPORT TO TRADE project, both supported by the European Leonardo da Vinci Programme, are good case studies, and, from the complexity of their tasks, enables the compilation of a set of useful guidelines.

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Training, Business culture, Web writing, Linguistic competencies.

Producing multilingual material is a common goal of many European projects, where additional value is afforded both by the identification of regional-specific issues in a common European framework and by the availability of the material in a number of different countries and cultural/linguistic environments. This is the case with projects elaborating on specific topics (e.g., social conditions, education systems, national legislation, etc.) as well as for projects developing training materials for specific professional profiles. In most cases, such projects face two problems. The first is that the material for the different countries must be developed with a comparable level of detail and a uniform style by remote and not always homogeneous national teams. The second is that producing versions in different languages requires taking into account a large number of country-specific cultural issues. Such issues can make the production of the material (including proof-reading and style correction) a very long and costly process, and even more so when one adds the need for multiple translations. Even worse, each element in the production chain increases the risk of errors being introduced. Linguists and professional translators are very familiar with such problems, but teams working on transnational projects are not always fully aware of their impact and consequences. This issue is even more problematical when the project itself is dealing with cultural differences [RBB93, Swi98, SL03], as is the case with the EMBER (“Effective Marketing for Business in European Regions”) and Passport To Trade projects. In this case, another very important question is that you might not know what information about your cultural environment is relevant (i.e. different, not banal) for the other regional cultures. The EMBER and P2T projects aims to develop informative materials for small and medium sized companies on the subject of business culture and etiquette in Europe. The material must be multilingual and primarily accessible on the web. After a pilot exercise (Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom), the P2T project is going to cover 25 EU countries by June 2007. The material, presented under the logo “Passport to Trade” and available on the web site is organised in six sections: Section 1 - Political and Economic Environment; Section 2 - General Business Environment; Section 3 - Business Practice; Section 4 - Business Meetings; Section 5 - Useful Phrases; Section 6 - Further Reading. The EMBER and P2T projects are supported by the Leonardo da Vinci programme and undertaken by partners from the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, Finland, Ireland and Spain. The nature of these partners is varied; member institutions
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include universities, a private business school, SME consultancies and a European marketing association. All members have considerable experience in transnational business activities, and the University of Salford (the project coordinator) has also previously developed similar materials (in English language only) on China, Chile and Mexico. E-learning experience and some linguistic skills are also represented. Nonetheless, the differences between the national teams are significant. Among other things, knowledge of the English language varies considerably between individual members of the team. This is important since English is used as the common working language for meetings and internal communication as well as for writing the first public version of the information material. In order to cope with the problems mentioned at the beginning of the Section, the EMBER and P2T teams started developing a set of internal guidelines for writing the material. We have progressively extended and revised the content, learning from our mistakes and from the users' validation. Many comments on the socio-linguistic aspects are based on a specific linguistic analysis [Sum05]. A more detailed presentation of the methodology is available as an internal EMBER report [EMB05]. The second Section of this present study elaborates on the differences between extranational, bi-national and truly international materials and provides a check-list to avoid common pitfalls. The third Section of the study refers to basic techniques for producing good quality text and makes particular reference to the need for professional proof-reading and editing. The last Section describes the overall process for the production of new internationaloriented, multi-language country-specific materials.

Materials concerning more than one country fall generally into one of three categories: 1. Extra-national. It is relatively easy to prepare people in one cultural context (or country) for activities in another outside their own. One writes in a common language for a common readership with common characteristics, and with a common interest or need. There are few socio-linguistic or cultural problems in this situation. Linguistically, the subject-matter is irrelevant; the information may be about other periods of history, other specialisms, other countries, but the language issues are simple. 2. Bi-national. A more complex type of project consists in facilitating the interchange of activities between two cultures. If a project, for example, had been prepared not only to facilitate British contact with a specific foreign country but also contact between that country and the UK, then the language aspects, style of presentation and many other elements would be entirely different. It would be a common work, to be made available in two languages, for people from two cultures. What is a joke to someone in UK may not be to the foreigners.

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Set phrases, idioms, cultural references, proverbs, names of famous people, and an almost endless list of etceteras would have to be omitted. Not everything is difficult and negative, however. If we have on our production team experts in both languages and cultures, we have the advantage of being able to make direct comparison and contrast, and also decide which aspects are sufficiently different to merit inclusion, or sufficiently similar to be unnecessary. We may decide to say: “The British and Xxxxxxx have the same attitude to what to wear in a business meeting” but may have to add that “the Xxxxxxs will often remove jacket and tie once the formalities are completed, although in Britain this is not the case.” In fact the compare/contrast procedure is the essence of this type of information. 3. International. Sometimes material is produced about, and for use in, a number of different countries and cultural/linguistic environments. The P2T project is in this category, and demonstrates that this meaning of “international” is immensely more complex and adventurous. We cannot use compare/contrast techniques since we are dealing with many different cultures (four countries at present, and any future project extension will deal with five times that number). It is humanly impossible for any one person to have the necessarily detailed awareness and understanding of a large number of cultures to be able to decide which elements are sufficiently varied to need consideration, and which are sufficiently similar not to need comment. We also have the situation of things which may be common to two countries but totally different in others. The international nature of the P2T project is the cause of many “pitfalls” which were identified during the development of the material. Such experience has been condensed into the guidelines presented in the rest of the section. Be specific Avoid information which, being too generic, is common to all regions. For instance “managers earn much more than their employees....” or “e-mail is a new communication tool...” are not particularly useful comments. On the other hand “managers earn about X times as much as their employees... according to ...” or “e-mail is regularly used by all companies, even the smallest” are more specifically informative and they should be included. Be complete Always bear in mind that many things which may appear obvious to you and therefore not worthy of mention may be relevant for a foreign reader. When in doubt, it would be preferable to provide complete information (as long as it is specific) even if apparently banal. For instance, you should explicitly mention the normal working hours (e.g., 8 to 5) and the major exceptions, even if this information is taken for granted in your country.

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As another example, when offering advice on typical gifts to take home after a trip to UK, the British content writer may want to mention whisky or scarves from Scotland, but should also suggest possible items from other UK regions. Be factually correct Always double-check all figures and specific information provided in the material. Are they up-to-date? Are they reliable? Is there an external source (person, organisation, publication) supporting them? Avoid you own personal opinions about a topic. They may be biased. The best way to avoid inaccurate factual information is to refer to official sources, for instance institutional web sites, scientific publications and books. This should also prevent you from quoting unreliable sources of information, especially in the case of websites. Keep in mind regional differences The importance of regional differences is well understood by P2T. Regions and regional differences are addressed specifically in one Section and the topic is also mentioned in other subsections (holidays, eating out, etc.). You should always mention regional differences when they are relevant (e.g, different working hours, attitudes.). Conversely, if you mention something specific about one region, make clear that it is relevant only for that area and not necessarily characteristic of the country as a whole. Select the appropriate section Where to put the information? Some information might be included in different places. For example: 1. rules for the formation of family names (eg. husband, wife, children) may be included under Use of titles or Greetings; 2. use of business cards may be covered in Face-to-face, Greetings, Running a meeting, etc.; 3. presenting your company for a first contact is relevant for Communication/making contact” and for Setting up a meeting. The P2T team devised three different solutions to this problem. ● Stick to the index. You have certainly prepared and agreed a common index. Always read carefully the index. In many cases the most appropriate place is already identified there. ● Cross-reference. If the choice is not made or you just feel that the particular subject must also be mentioned under a different heading (i.e. the information is particularly important and you feel that it cannot be omitted) then insert the full
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version of the text in one section/subsection and add an explicit reference in the other sections, possibly with a simplified version of the text. It is also possible to split the text in two parts (as appropriate) adding explicit references to the other parts. In any case, avoid a plain duplication of the same text in different sections. Choose the best place. Duplication might appear unnecessary and redundant when the information is not particularly critical. In this case, follow the general rule (the EMBER index) or, if not present, make your own choice adopting consistent criteria. Be sure that you also apply the same criteria to other similar cases.

Denationalise the material When writing the material for a multi-cultural audience, i.e. in a truly international context, you should avoid specific national references, unless you have a very particular reason for doing so. As an example, consider the following sentence. “Often, Italian businessmen do not speak English and they are prepared to use the services of a professional translator”. The reference to English makes the text very language- and country-specific. As a consequence the sentence as it stands is irrelevant for Spanish or Czech speakers consulting information on Italy. A simple “denationalised” version would read: “Often, Italian businessmen do not speak other languages and … ”. This has the advantage that it simplifies the work of translators; even external translators, working in any language, will produce a version which is relevant and meaningful in every case. Alternatively, if the issue is not correctly addressed before releasing the first version of the material, it must be dealt with by translators when a country-specific version is prepared (see next point). Adapt “bi-national” comparisons (in the country-specific version) It may happen that the final text (after proof-reading and style checking) still presents “bi-national” comparisons between two countries which are not pertinent in your language or for your country. In these cases, you should carefully modify the sentence. As an example, consider the following sentence: “If after the first contact it is known that the Czech manager speaks English, then the best and fastest way is to make a more direct contact and to arrange a face-to-face meeting”. The material producer is Czech, writing in English, and assumes a bi-cultural situation involving only these two countries (as for a bi-national project). A competent translator who is aware of the project aims and content must substitute “If ……speaks Spanish…..” in the Spanish version, “If…speaks Italian……” in the Italian version etc. etc.

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Take out irrelevant information (in the country-specific version) When translating for a particular national readership, it is important to be aware of what information is totally superfluous for that country, and to omit it from the final version. Be aware that things may be common to two countries but totally different in others. As an example, a piece of the original EMBER Italian material includes the sentence: “In case of a very friendly or family relationship, people may embrace and/or ‘kiss’ on either cheek. In this case, ‘kissing’ is done by simply pressing the sides of each face together.” Such an explanation may be necessary for British (and Czech) readers, but is totally superfluous and therefore unnecessary in the Spanish translation, since Spaniards greet each other in the same way. Such an analysis and consequent style correction must be carried out by people who are fully aware of the cultural content and implications of the project, and it must be done before the actual translation work is started. If this step is omitted and translation work is subcontracted externally, this facility is lost. Translators simply work on what is presented to them, and do not apply any “censoring” procedures. Check for inconsistencies after the translation Inconsistencies may be generated during the translation. The original text may be ambiguous or contain some “hidden” assumptions which have not been fully understood by the translator. When the work is subcontracted externally to professional translators, the “national” content-writing teams should undertake an extra final reading to ensure that the translated version faithfully conveys the sense and spirit of the original. This step will also help to identify “hidden” issues, such as those of clarity or missing information, in the original text. In any case, when a doubt arises about the correct interpretation and translation of the original material, the translators/national representatives should ask the authors for the correct interpretation.

To ensure that the material is of good quality, the content writing team generally performs extensive preliminary searches and relies on the contribution of experts. Nevertheless, although this ensures the quality of the information, it does not necessarily lead to a pleasant and easy-to-read text. Without a specific effort to achieve a clear writing style, the final result, although well documented, may be boring and difficult to read, understand and translate.

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In addition, we should not forget that writing for the web implies other technical and stylistic issues, since reading text on a computer screen is more difficult than on paper1. This is mainly because of the lower resolution of the screen. However, there are other factors which constitute problems for the webpage writer: the limited view of a “page” of text, the impossibility to predict the overall size of the published material, the difficulty to mark and go back exactly to a specific block of text, the need for annoying horizontal and vertical scrolling operations, the slow response of the Internet, etc. [Pri02, Use05]. The EMBER and P2T experience has demonstrated the need to consider the following points: 1. Writing with a clear and direct style yields a double benefit: it improves the impact of the material on the reader and, at the same time, reduces the problems at the translation stage. It is therefore very important that content writers pay attention to clarity and readability from the outset. 2. Writing for the web requires an additional specific effort to obtain a text which "goes through the screen" for clarity, brevity, and recognisable structure: in fact, a text which is acceptable on paper might be almost unreadable on a web page. 3. Producing good quality materials automatically demands the involvement of professional proof-readers and editors (for style correction). In multi-cultural projects, there is the additional requirement that these “quality-controllers” must also be aware of cultural differences. As to the first two issues, they are relevant for many fields where textual communication is important (training material, journalism, technical publications, marketing, etc.), and many high quality sources (books, web sites, courses) are already available to help. Those requiring further information on these subjects should consult the references given in the selected bibliography, for style [Cut96, ECTS, Wag92, Wil96] and for the web [Pri02, NNG05, Use05, WWR05]. The importance of proof-reading and style correction is discussed in the following subsections. Proof-reading For most people, proof-reading means the simple process of removing errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar before the text is considered suitable for widespread distribution/reading. Is proof-reading important, or even necessary? First of all, we have no control at all over the subjective and emotional reactions which readers may have to poor style, inaccurate grammar and punctuation, and bad spelling. These factors can and do have an adverse effect on the level of confidence which readers have in the quality and reliability of the material. Language errors lead one to expect errors of content, which may or may not be present. For these reasons, it is important to go to all reasonable lengths to ensure that the material is free from those


Jacob Nielsen, a well known expert on web usability, estimates that people read 25% slower on a computer screen than on paper so that, to compensate, computer users spend more time understanding “where” they are and if the content is potentially interesting than actually reading the text.

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linguistic problems and errors which may have adverse effects on the level of confidence which the material seeks to inspire in the user. Secondly, proof-reading is necessary not only for the English version of the material. It should be done for the other languages of the project and for all textual material produced. This includes the interface of the web site (labels, buttons, menu, error messages, etc.), the textual pages of the web site (project description, partners’ presentation, FAQ, wrapping material, etc.). Thus, in a project like P2T, proof-reading is a highly pervasive activity. Errors may of course be purely mechanical (e.g. typing errors), and may not necessarily indicate linguistic limitations on the part of the writer. Proof-readers do not need to worry about WHY a mistake has occurred; they simply identify mistakes, and then correct them. Writers must not feel offended or insulted if corrections are made to their material. Proof-readers contribute their expertise as one vital link in the chain of production. Quality control indicates a strength, not a weakness, of this chain. Style correction Removing spelling and grammar errors is not enough. The revision must yield a smoother and more fluent text, where obscure and ambiguous sentences are streamlined. Effective proof-readers have to be opportunely briefed to perform this activity effectively. It is also important that they fully understand the objectives of the project and, as a consequence, the purpose of their style-correction function. For this kind of correction, proof-readers must take full responsibility for the outcome. They do not need to seek the approval of the original content writers. However, contact may be necessary for clarification of intent or meaning. In addition, an effective text revision should, as mentioned in the previous section, cover some content-related issues such as ambiguity, missing information, inappropriate binational references, etc. In this case, the text corrector should find a solution in cooperation with the original content writer. Furthermore, in the case of multicultural projects, it is necessary for this revision to be undertaken by people with the necessary understanding of cultural differences. Ideally they should be part of the project team, even though they may not be directly involved in writing the material.

The overall process to develop a set of multicultural and multilingual country-specific profiles is indeed quite complex. First of all, linguistic issues have to be taken into account when several units, cooperating in a transnational context, are involved. The EMBER and P2T teams include people from nine or ten countries (depending on the definition of “country”) speaking seven or eight different native languages (depending on the definition of
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“language”). English is the accepted working language even though linguistic competencies vary considerably among the partners. The second point is that a large number of sub-tasks and sub-phases need to be synchronised. The issue is clearly illustrated by the workflow diagram given below. Detailed comments are The workflow of the process is illustrated in the diagram below and is largely selfexplanatory. However, a checklist of critical issues faced during the development of the material is covered by a project report [EMB05] with specific attention to: National team building; Survey of existing material; Draft material in English (the working language); Centralised proof-reading; Final validation; Update the material. A further question relates to the need for managing (i.e. storing, exchanging, comparing) an exponentially-growing number of versions of the material in different languages and for different countries. A version control and document management procedure, either manual or automatic, is essential. The basic solution to keep the proliferation of versions under control and thereby to save time in text processing is to define and follow a set of simple rules for document management and text formatting. This solution was adopted by the EMBER project. A more advanced solution relies on a system for document and version management for the enforcement of those rules. A similar solution has been designed and implemented by the P2T project. See [EMB05] for more detailed information. The rest of the section covers the first issue, i.e., dealing with different linguistic competencies. Dealing with different linguistic competencies In order to analyse the impact of cultural differences and linguistic issues in project management, an internal survey [Sum05] has been undertaken among affected project members. The survey highlights a number of obstacles faced by English as a Foreign Language (EFL) speakers, which are briefly summarised as follows: First of all, EFL speakers arrive at a project meeting directly from other language environments. They comment that it takes them some time to adapt to the change, and often do not contribute as much on the first day as on subsequent days. It also takes them longer to feel confident in the English-speaking group, and some fail to contribute at all in their first (or even second) meeting, for fear of making mistakes in English and subjecting themselves to ridicule. This does not mean that Englishspeakers WILL ridicule, or that they will not be sympathetic and helpful. Nevertheless

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there is an innate reticence on the part of EFL speakers which requires considerable determination and effort on the part of the native English speakers to overcome. It is then very important that the working group does something "positive" to facilitate and encourage the level of participation of EFL members to the meetings. First of all, it is important that native English speakers control their accent, style, and speed of delivery in order to facilitate EFL members’ comprehension. However, this is difficult to maintain for long periods of time and even more when: 1. the discussion becomes more involved (and sometimes heated), and 2. speakers are not specifically language-oriented and trained (as are language teachers, professional speakers, etc.). Specific measures must therefore be adopted and procedures employed. A first suggestion can be taken bodily from the Czech material in a “Passport to Trade”: "it is necessary for a native English speaker to make sure that all the necessary information is understood the way it is meant to be by the foreign partners. Do not be satisfied with the ”yes” answer. EFL speakers are often afraid to ask, and even when they speak well they might not understand the specific terminology and this can complicate the meeting. " Another tactic is to appoint an internationally-minded chairperson or, even better, an EFL chairperson for transnational meetings to ensure maximum participation and contribution from EFL members. When opinions are invited, questions asked, or when a period of silence occurs in a meeting, it is typically a native English speaker who contributes first, and thereby sets the direction of the discussion. An EFL chairperson would see this, and make special provision for EFL contribution. Needless to say, the project lead partner must still direct project activities and ensure that meetings tackle adequately all necessary issues and achieve the expected results. Furthermore, a chairperson and, in general, any speaker addressing multi-lingual groups should have sufficient international sensitivity and understanding to allow time for clarifications within national groups. To avoid missing or misunderstanding some important points, EFL members may need to exchange comments in their own language as a double check. This must not be seen as private (even irrelevant) conversations, and it is better for a competent chairperson to make allowances and wait for the clarification to be completed before continuing. The body language can be “internationalised” as well. When making a point, for example, speakers make eye-contact with listeners in order to elicit tacit approval for, or agreement with, what they are saying. A study of this eye-contact phenomenon in EMBER meetings showed that EFL speakers looked for approval from native English speakers since they were expressing themselves in the latters’ language and needed assurance that they were doing so effectively and without making too many mistakes. Native English speakers looked for support and agreement from other native English
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speakers. A truly international attitude would show itself in native English speakers making eye-contact with non-native speakers, to ensure that they too were being understood by them. As a conclusion, a general consideration applies and was explicitely made during the internal survey: “A transnational project group such as the EMBER group is a perfect case study of how people from different nationalities, languages and culture are able to work together, to understand each other (because of language and style)”.

The EMBER and Passport To Trade projects, with the financial support of the Leonardo da Vinci programme, have successfully developed a set of materials on business culture and etiquette in 25 European countries, made available in several languages. The final result is an example of an internationally-oriented product which should satisfy the needs of readers from different countries and languages. This is a much more complex scenario than for extra-national or bi-national projects, where only one or two countries are described and compared and the material is prepared in one or two languages. The project was carried out by a varied transnational partnership with considerable experience in transnational business activities, development of training material, elearning, etc. Nonetheless, the inherent complexity of the task and the linguistic and cultural differences between individual members of the team made the production of the material (including proof-reading and style correction) and the translation process costly and open to several kinds of inaccuracies. In order to achieve a finished product of perceptible quality, the project team developed a set of internal guidelines, which might be usefully considered by those undertaking similar multi-lingual and multi-cultural projects. The guidelines include: 1. a checklist to avoid common “cultural” and “linguistic” pitfalls when writing the material; 2. references to basic techniques for preparing good quality text, easy to read and to translate; 3. the need for content developers to give due attention to the function of proofreading and text correction; 4. other relevant comments, and a checklist which addresses management issues in a multicultural and multilingual project.

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Define aims and objectives

Figure: The EMBER project workflow

Organise content writing teams

Analyse training needs

Research materials currently available

Identify and analyse gaps

Develop content structure Produce materialwriting guidelines Set standards for document production (incl. templates)

Develop delivery methodology

Develop prototype web site

Draft materials in working language + internal valid.

Proof read, style and language check

Test site usability and revision

Place working language materials onto web site

Validate published working language materials

Validate web site

Revise materials in working language

Revise web site as required

Final proof reading in working language

Evaluate final product

Translate materials Final proof reading in each national language

Place translated materials SOLSTICE 2007 Conference, Edge Hill University onto web site

[Cut96] MARTIN CUTTS, 1996. “The Plain English Guide”, Oxford University Press [ECTS] “English Style Guide”. European Commission Translation Service (SdT).

[Pri02] PRICE J, and PRICE L., 2002. “Hot Text – Web Writing That Works”, McGraw-Hill. [RBB93] RANDLESOME, C., BRIERLEY W., BRUTON, K., GORDON, K. and KING, P., 1993 ‘Business Cultures in Europe’. 2nd edition. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. [SL03] SWIFT, J.S., LAWRENCE, K. 2003. Business Culture in Latin America: Interactive Learning for UK SMEs, Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 27 No. 8 [Swi98] SWIFT, J.S. 1998. The Relationship Between Market Culture and Market Language: British Executives in Overseas Markets, Unpublished PhD Thesis, Department of Modern Languages, University of Liverpool. [Wag92] WAGNER, E., 1992. Translation Service. “Fight the FOG. Write clearly”, European Commission ISBN 92-828-2697-X, Luxembourg,

[Wil95] WILLIAMS J.M., 1995. “Style: Toward Clarity and Grace”, The University of Chicago Press [EMB05] The EMBER Team, 2005. "The EMBER manual to produce good quality, multilingual, web-oriented text material in a multicultural project", EMBER internal project report [SLR05] SILVER, J., LAWRENCE K., RIDSDALE, J., BARRON V.,, KLOSOVA, A., ROSSI, G., 2005. “A Passport to Trade: Raising Awareness of European Business Cultures. A SME – Higher Education Collaboration”, OECD Conference, Trento – Italy. [Sum05] SUMPTER D.J., 2005. "The EMBER Project – A socio-linguistic analysis", EMBER internal project report, Almería Business School, Spain.

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