Language Barriers: Are You Blocking or Boosting Your Business?

Case study

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘communication is key’.  Whether you believe ‘it’s good to talk’ or stand by the power of saying less, there’s no denying that good communication, be it in your mother tongue or a second language, not only enables information exchange but also strengthens relationships and trust.  However, communicating in multiple languages can open your business to global opportunities and communities that could determine success or failure. 

Communication style forms part of a company’s image and identity.  How does your company’s communication style speak to your international clients and employees?  Is it generating growth or missed opportunities? 

In this blog: 

  • Languages to generate growth
  • Translating and localising websites
  • Using local agents
  • Using professional translators and / or interpreters
  • Offering language training
  • But English is the international language.

Languages to generate growth

“A lack of language skills costs the UK 3.5% of GDP”, stated The Linguist magazine recently.  “The removal of language barriers with trading partners from Arabic-, Chinese-, French- and Spanish-speaking countries could increase UK exports annually by about £19bn”, reported RAND, a research organisation developing solutions to public policy challenges.

A European Commission study listed language management strategies and the use of professional translators as two of just four key tools linked to higher performance in international tradeSmall and medium sized enterprises investing in these tools achieved export sales 44.5% higher than those who chose not to invest.

What are some of the most popular language management strategies that could support your business?

Translating and localising websites and other assets

According to Harvard Business Review, “there is an undeniably strong link between in-language content and a consumer’s likelihood of making a purchase”.  Almost 75% of European consumers spend most or all their time on websites in their own language, with almost 20% never browsing in a language other than their own.

Common Sense Advisory, a research company specialising in the language services industry, found that over 56% of those surveyed said that having information in their own language is more important than price.  This means that over 56% of consumers are willing to pay more if you provide information in their own languages.  42% said they never purchase products and services in other languages. 

Using local agents

Local agents can help to break down language, as well as cultural barriers.  Procter & Gamble launched Pampers nappies in Japan using their packaging with an image of a stork delivering a baby.  However, in Japan, giant floating peaches bring babies to their parents, not storks, so people were confused and product sales suffered.  This is an example of where a local agent would be aware of such nuances and handle them appropriately on behalf of your business. 

Using professional translators and / or interpreters

A common theme among businesses is the use of untrained linguists with knowledge of other languages rather than professional translators. Translators and interpreters are highly skilled, specialising in particular fields rather than working across all, so that they become experts.  They use dedicated tools and specialised resources to improve quality, which are largely unknown by untrained linguists. 

Think restaurant menu when you’re abroad.  How many times have you come across a dish description that makes no sense, so you just move on and choose a different meal?   What impression does this restaurant create?  Is this how you want your business to be perceived?

Offering language training

In European countries, there is a wage premium for using a second language at work, uncommon in the UK.  As a result, many UK businesses rely on finding resources with the necessary language skills outside our borders.

According to RAND, the number of pupils learning languages in the UK has declined sharply since 2004, which is likely to have a negative effect on the UK’s ability to compete internationally. 

I am a big advocate of investing in on-the-job language training. This is how I improved my languages and as a result, I was able to step in and handle negotiations and duties, which would otherwise have required costly external multi-lingual resource. 

But English is the international language?

40% of French people speak French only. 45% of Spanish people speak Spanish only.  This is just a small example of the customer base you are potentially excluding.  Yes, English is the lingua franca in many situations, but it is not the sole driver in certain key services and trade sectors, such as energy.  Other languages are equally as important, if not more, in reducing trade barriers.

The power of languages is often undervalued in UK business, but when you consider the potential for additional revenue and capitalising on currently missed or unavailable opportunities, investing in languages is a no brainer.  Why hold your business back?

By Julia Danmeri, CEO & Founder – TranslateAble

TranslateAble is a language agency providing services to the exhibition and events industry. The TranslateAble agency and its team of linguists work with clients to communicate with their communities worldwide, through expert language services and translation, to reach global markets and audiences – in any language. TranslateAble is a member of the ATC, abiding by their codes of conduct. For more information visit the website at www.translateable.com

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