New exporters often overlook translation when starting to export for the first time. It is very easy to underestimate the impact of language as a potential barrier to trade. Getting export translations 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. However, 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. Therefore if you double the length of the English text, then you are doubling the translation cost. 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. 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, 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. The fact that 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. You buy 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 appear value for money. However, the result will be very poor.

Professional translation is not cheap, and takes time.

Once your export translations are ready:

Okay, you have your marketing brochures translated. You’ve launched your nice shiny target language website. You have all your product packaging and user guides translated. So what now?

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.

You might think that it is easy for a translation company to deal with enquiries in different languages. However, we actually have some of the same issues as you! We currently have 9 languages between our head office team. More than many businesses. You can guarantee that a new sales enquiry comes in a language we don’t have in-house though. This involves extra time and cost, because we have to translate all communications.

There are possible strategies to cope. For example, if you can’t deal with calls in a given language, why give your phone number? Maybe you should approach this by having detailed FAQ sheets, and contact by email.

If you anticipate lots of sales from a specific market, you may need staff with the relevant language expertise.

Thinking about exporting, and need to discuss your translation requirements? Contact Better Languages.