Translation is an often overlooked requirements for businesses starting to export for the first time. It is very easy to underestimate the impact of language as a potential barrier to trade. Getting language translation wrong can be a costly mistake. As an example, food packaging has to be in the local languages(s), there are legal requirements pretty well worldwide. You may assume that UK packaging will be acceptable in other English speaking countries, but actually there are very different legal requirements for food labelling in countries such as the US, South Africa, or Australia. Within the European Union there is broad commonality of packaging requirements, although different countries may interpret European standards slightly differently.

So what are the key language issues when preparing to export? Here are our 6 top export translation tips:

  1. Don’t be tempted to use an amateur. Speaking two languages doesn’t make you a translator. Professional translators need expert understanding of both source and target languages, to be specialist in the required technical vocabulary, and trained, normally to post graduate level. It is also normally the case that translators work into their native language.
  2. Be clear on your language requirements before starting translation. In general you are paying per word, so double the length of English text, will be double the cost when translated. There is also the issue of space on product packaging. We have recently translated a high volume of food packaging text English to French, for one of our regular clients. As the pack size is quite small, the client had the issue of lack of space. Fonts have to be a legal minimum size on the one hand, and French is typically 25 – 30% longer than an equivalent English text on the other. The result was that every individual character had to be justified.
  3. Consider and monitor return on investment: it is scary how some companies select which countries to market to. Translating a big product range, marketing materials, or a major website into another language, or a range of languages, can be very expensive, do you know there is enough business out there to justify the cost? Have you researched the market to assess the likely demand?
  4. Don’t underestimate the impact of brand on your UK sales, establishing an unknown brand in a new country can be a long process, and the fact you are established in the UK doesn’t mean you will be recognised in a new market. Even big companies make this mistake.
  5. When selecting a translation company, check their credentials. Are they ISO: 9001 certified? Who are their clients? Do they have expertise in your required specialism?
  6. Don’t be tempted to only buy on price. Effectively with translation you are buying time for money – the time and expertise of the translator, QA checker, and project manager. At the lower end of the market, you may actually be paying for machine translation. This may be cheaper, but as you will know if you have ever used Google translate, to translate a web page into another language, and then back translate the result into English, the result will be very poor. Professional translation is not cheap, and takes time.

Once you have your marketing brochures, nice shiny target language website, and all your product packaging and user guides translated, you may think you are ready to go to market, but you also need to think about logistics. How do you sell, how do you deliver the product, and how do you offer sales and aftersales support. As a translation company, you might think that it is really easy for us to deal with sales enquiries from all over the world, but actually we have some of the same issues. We currently have 9 languages in our head office, but it is quite likely that we will get a sales enquiry in a language we don’t have in-house. This involves extra time and cost, in that all communications have to be translated. There are possible strategies to cope. e.g. if you don’t have capability to field telephone calls in a given language, why give out your phone number? Maybe you should approach this by having detailed FAQ sheets, and contact by email. If you anticipate a high value of sales from a specific market, you may consider hiring sales staff with the relevant language expertise.

Thinking about exporting, and need to discuss your translation requirements? Contact betterlanguages.com.