Language Dos and Don’ts to Support Global Expansion
By Beatriz A. Bonnet, CEO & President of Syntes Language Group, Inc.
(Originally published November 2012)
Global expansion depends on specific expertise in many areas: international business, law, tax codes, finance, marketing and much more.
Add professional interpreters and translators to that list as well. According to a recent report issued by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)*, its survey of 572 international business executives put language and communication on the top of the list of needed expertise. The EIU report says:
Enhanced international communication skills improve revenues by 89%; profits by 85%; and market share by 85%.
75% of executives rate their colleagues’ ability to communicate internationally as average or below average.
64% of businesses indicate that languages and cultural differences constrain their expansion plans.
49% of executives identify communication issues as resulting in financial losses after cross border deals fell through.
Our business interactions are all colored by our own perspective and language. While electronic translators receive much ‘buzz’ today, their accuracy leaves much to be desired, largely due to the fact that language is socially constructed and therefore embedded in our culture.
Consider, for example, Pepsi’s failed experience marketing in Taiwan. Its advertising slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” was literally translated into Chinese as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” The problem was not just the language; the company failed to consider the cultural impact of this statement.
Hence, your expansion team needs professional interpreters and translators working side-by-side with other professionals to improve your success rates for global expansion. When it comes to language, consider these Dos and Don’ts:
1. Hire professional translators and interpreters – Evaluate experience in both the language and the functional role (marketing, financial, mergers, etc.). Professionals who are certified translators or interpreters or who have degrees in translation are available. Understand the types of projects that individual translators and interpreters can reasonably take care of vs. the needs of your company in terms of volumes, quality, turnaround times and your company’s and team’s ability to manage a multitude of resources.
2. Use a Language Services Provider (LSP) who can provide a multitude of languages rather than individuals with more limited experience in one language. LSPs also provide quality and project management services to help stay on budget and on time. LSPs are particularly helpful with emerging markets that provide language challenges. For example, the language needs in Nigeria have grown significantly in the last five years due to the growth in their economy. Officially, the country has nine languages. By working through an LSP, companies can generally source all their translation and interpreting needs efficiently.
3. Remember the “bridging” formula to language and culture…prepare to communicate in a cross cultural setting; decenter from your native language; and re-center upon the new language and its cultural nuances.
4. Localize – Localization is the process of adapting your product/service, brand, marketing and communication to the local market. For example, most video games are localized by country for the language, music, culture, graphics and local legal issues such as age recommendations. Our next issue of eTips in December 2012 will be devoted entirely to this topic.
5. Protect your intellectual property. Copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and patents must be registered in every country where you do business to be adequately protected.
1. Assume that English is the dominant language of business world-wide. “English dominance over world communication is shrinking as more and more countries gain economic independence and interact among themselves more,” according to Christopher S. Carter in MultiLingual Magazine (October/November 2012).
2. Rely on United States based employees to develop an understanding of language and culture in another country. Local partners, including professional translators and interpreters, will be most efficient in your integration.
3. Brand yourself with the same identity as in the United States. For example, Starbucks found that it could not use the same branding in Australia because of a cultural conflict with its model for standardization. So after failing with its United States brand, it re-branded to create more uniqueness among local competitors.
Language is the most essential tool for global expansion. Understanding embedded communication nuances requires mastering the language or utilizing the services of someone who has mastered the language, which may be perceived as time consuming and costly. However, misinterpreting the words or cultural meaning negatively affects the entire interchange and can amount to a much larger cost.
*The full EIU report is available at: