The Role Of Translation When Entering International Markets

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Companies large and small often see export as a way of strengthening sales performance, and improving profitability. The logic is clear, if you can sell successfully in the UK, surely you can also sell in international markets. Leaving aside product or service specifics, translation is often an overlooked “Cinderella” service.  Both SMEs and large companies who are new to international trade often overlook its importance. I don’t minimise suitability for international sale, which is a large topic in itself.

So what is the role of translation when entering international markets?

Legal compliance:

Many products are required by law to have certain information on pack. They may also need instruction leaflets, or product labelling, or all three. Quite simply, if the information isn’t in the language (or languages) of the country of sale, you will be breaking the law. We translate in several highly regulated areas, most countries require food labelling to be in the local language, care labelling is also highly regulated, as is toy labelling.


Many companies never get beyond point 1, electing to get the legal minimum wording translated, if you have a small product, and need to include lots of languages, this approach is very logical, and often unavoidable, but we would argue that marketing is the most compelling use of translation for most products and services. Your product may have very compelling features and benefits. However, if your customer isn’t aware of them, they are likely to buy something else.

Brand image:

Which brand would you trust more as a consumer? A company with all their packaging in Dutch, French and German (no English). Or perhaps, a brand who had English on pack? At best you may choose the none-English labelled product if it is substantially cheaper. Or possibly if it has other compelling aspects to the packaging, such as amazing design. In either case, price or artwork design will have to work really hard to get the sale. As the “majority language” (actually not true, English is the 3rd most spoken first language after Chinese and Spanish); it is easy to overlook this impact. This is because we aren’t that used to seeing packaging without English.

Customer Care:

How can you offer effective after sales service, and product advice, if it isn’t available in your customer’s language? Companies often fall down here. You may have excellent promotional material and product packaging. However, what do you do if a customer phones up with a query? Indeed could they even phone you at all? If you have a none geographic UK customer care number, it may not even work internationally.

Translation and selling B2B

If this all sounds very retail focused, we would argue that the same issues apply selling B2B. Again it is easy to assume that the whole world speaks English. However, even Holland, which has a high level of English use, nearly 50% of the population do not speak English. Then of the ones that do abilities will vary. Do you really want to limit your target market to a maximum of half the population?

Now a word of warning. Translation will add cost to trading internationally, as will any product adaptation including possible re-brand, repackaging, re-labelling etc. There are also the logistical implications of selling in another market. You may be a market leader in your space. But, brand recognition will be much lower where you don’t have a presence. Selling internationally will therefore take time, money and a lot of perseverance.

We find that networking with other exporters, and sharing expertise is highly valuable. EMITA is the prime East Midlands organisation of exporters. Their programme of export events allows you to discover more about international trade.