Businesses Lost in Translation – How to Avoid it

A recent FT post found that 1/4 of UK companies operating internationally or those planning to do so have lost business. Why? Because employees do not have sufficient foreign language skills. (related post: Tongue-tied UK businesses find foreign trade lost in translation, Sep 23rd 2015)

While most countries are inevitably undergoing international integration in the globalization process, one has to recognize the role that cultural/linguistic differences plays and will continue to play in the foreseeable future.

English as a Lingua Franca will see more importance especially in the B2B environment. However, when it comes to B2C, the role of local languages can never be downplayed.

According to Common Sense Advisory, a market research company based in the US, English accounts for 36.5% of online GDP – this means 63.5% of online GDP comes from other languages, from simplified Chinese (8.7%), Spanish (8.0%), German (7.5%), Japanese (7.5%), etc. making it essential to take into account the languages other than English.

(source: Benchmarking the Top 100 Online Languages for 2015)

If you are a company already operating overseas where English is not spoken or plan to expand to those markets, below are some tips:

1. Map your localization strategies with the company’s business goals

What are the company’s global vs regional business goals? To what extent would standardization vs localization fit the company’s outreach?

2. Choose the right localization partner

Avoid using your staff to perform translation simply because they are bilingual or trilingual. Choose language service providers (LSPs) based on your needs.

3. Calculate return on investment

Note that we use ROI instead of budget, because we contend that when a company wants to enter into a market, localization would be a value-creating process rather simply a cost center

4. Create SLA and manage supplier performance

Draft your Service Level Agreement and closely monitor your supplier’s performance

(For localization vendor management, check out our blog post: Advanced Localization Vendor Management)

5. Review and leverage

This may be missing from many companies, but your strategies to expand to one market may be leveraged for another – though beware that localization strategies need to localized as well.