Bull? Bear? The BBC Takes Business Lingo to Moscow

FLEDGLING Soviet entrepreneurs, eager to learn the skills and jargon of the marketplace, are about to have their wishes fulfilled. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is supplying Moscow Radio with a series of programs in which the emphasis will be on teaching the essential vocabulary of capitalist society.

``Trading Words'' will be played weekly at prime time, nationwide, to an audience that the Soviet broadcasting authorities say is large and eager to acquire the ability to buy and sell, capitalist style, and to use the word-stock of successful merchants and traders.

Hamish Norbrook, the BBC executive in charge of the programs, went to Moscow last year and discovered a Soviet yearning to learn the meaning of phrases such as ``Let's talk about that over lunch'' and ``Do we have a deal?''

He had arrived in the Soviet capital hoping to interest Radio Moscow executives in a project that would explain the language used in Western pop music. Very quickly, however, he discovered there was a deeper curiosity about business English and how to use it.

In the West, phrases like discount, profit margin, and product launch are the basic linguistic currency of manufacturing and marketing. In the Soviet Union, where the command economy has prevailed for decades and the state has dominated commercial activity, they are a mystery.

Mr. Norbrook's trip resulted in a collaborative effort between the BBC and Radio Moscow in a 20-part series scheduled to begin in January. Other projects are expected to follow.

Each program will be in two parts: a five-minute introduction, in Russian, dealing with the concepts underlying market economics, and 15 minutes of English language instruction in business jargon and how to use it.

Moscow University's faculties of foreign languages and economics have cooperated with the BBC on the format and content of ``Trading Words.''

Norbrook says that for Soviet audiences it is necessary to explain in detail many of the ideas that are taken for granted by Western entrepreneurs.

``If a businessman says, `I would like to invite you to a party to celebrate the launch of our new product,' it sounds very straightforward. In fact, there are many assumptions buried in that sentence,'' he says.

``It presupposes, for example, that the product is going to be in the shops on time, which raises the question of punctual distribution. To Russian ears, that is a novel concept, because until now shoppers have learned not to rely on the prompt arrival of goods.''

Norbrook says Soviet listeners will probably have difficulties not only with business jargon but with some of the customs and conventions that go with it.

``We're going to teach them the language of negotiation and resolution of conflict. Rather than simply walk out of a deal, we'll suggest that people propose a cup of coffee to talk the matter over in the hope that a bargain can be struck.

``Nuances are terribly important to learn, and in the Soviet Union they are not part of the existing business culture.''

By the end of the series, Norbrook hopes listeners will be able to tell a bull from a bear and be familiar with such phrases as collateral, management buyouts, and export guarantees.

The ultimate aim is to provide Soviet entrepreneurs with both the language and the outlook of the Western businessman. But in Moscow, Norbrook noticed that, as well as being enthusiastic to learn about Western business culture, the people he spoke to were not uncritical.

``It is a time of great openness and willingness to discuss things,'' he says. ``They don't tell you they intend to adopt the market at all costs. They want to hear more about the system before decisions are made.''

The BBC-Moscow Radio broadcasts will coincide with the publication of notes about business English in Soviet magazines.

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