You Don’t Have To Be A Language Expert To Sell Internationally

  • 6 September 2017 KnowGlobal

Language barriers are one of the top reasons why retailers avoid expanding their business internationally, here’s how you can avoid the pitfalls of poor translation

Most people today can say they have had the pleasure of travelling to an exotic place somewhere abroad, a wonderful experience until you’re lost in the streets unable to complete the simple task of reading a road sign or asking for a glass of water in a café. Learning the basics of a local language can help initially but often you’ll find yourself frantically flicking through phrase books and translator apps when a real time conversation is to be had.

To avoid this struggle for customers, merchants should take the time to carry out translation into the local language, allowing for comfortable, hassle-free purchases.

In some cases the local language may be the same, e.g. UK selling into US, but there is often a lot of subtle terminology which can have a big impact on making your customers feel at home on your website. For example, when emailing customers regarding a swimsuit sale there is a key difference between using ‘holiday clothes’ and ‘vacation clothes’ or when a customer is submitting their chosen purchases to a ‘basket’ or ‘cart’. These small changes can make a big difference to your customer feeling at home on your website and will definitely affect your basket (or cart!) abandonment rate and in turn your sales. For the times your language is different to the local language there are a number of tools you can use.

Google doesn’t use Google Translate for its own business translations, so why should you?

Google translate is a quick and simple tool used often to get the general idea of a small chunk of foreign text or for looking up a small phrase whilst travelling abroad, but it does have its limits which is why the search engine giant themselves will always choose human translation above all else (Kroulek).

Unfortunately businesses can be subject to embarrassing results when using google translate, some have even left themselves open to court cases due to poor translations. This can be seen in the back-translation example below. The English wording when translated back has been mangled into a confusing mess, without being a Malay speaker, it’s impossible to know if the first run went right because it hasn’t translated back smoothly. It’s best not to take the chance.

It’s completely understandable why this tool is often used when it’s said that in the UK to become fluent in Mandarin is likely to cost £66k and £14k to become fluent in French (Translate Media). Unfortunately Google Translate doesn’t take into account grammar, social awareness and translates on a word by word basis, which is why even with a basic knowledge of GCSE French, Spanish or German using translation tools can go wrong.

What should you be doing?

Honestly, you’re probably not going to spend the £66k required to learn Mandarin just so you can start trading in China, although if you pick up some general phrases and are lucky enough to spend plenty of time out there you might be able to just muddle through, but then what happens when your business wants to expand into India? All in all it’s best to speak to a pro, someone highly skilled in languages, particularly the local language you are starting to sell too. It’s great to have someone who can sell your business and products as well as you can but in a way the locals will understand and buy into.

KnowGlobal’s team will be happy to help connect you to a range of lingual experts, those who can ensure your brand image is represented to the highest standard in all your selling territories, if you’re looking to expand your business internationally or would like to know more about translation, get in touch today.

Are you thinking about international expansion but don’t know where to start? We’d love to hear from you.


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