f:Entrepreneur #ialso Breakfast Series – Let’s Talk Languages

Have you seriously considered international markets for your business? We recently held a fantastic breakfast session hosted by #ialso100s Jacquelina Guardamagna and Hayley Smith all about the power of language and why small business owners should very much consider international markets to sell to and how we can translate into other languages to appeal to and converse the best we can with overseas customers.

During this session, Hayley Smith, Founder of Hayley Smith Language Services and Jaquelina Guardamagna, Founder of Translator in London, talked about the challenges and opportunities of using foreign languages in business, and the different solutions that experienced translators and language experts can offer.

Challenges when dealing with foreign markets in addition to language barriers.

Cultural concepts

Cultural words and expressions do not necessarily have an exact equivalent in other languages.

We resort to new words when we want to describe a social behaviour or experience [afternoon tea], a meal or drink [haggis] or an item of clothing [Sari].

If no similar social patterns are seen in other countries, translators must think of creative ways to express those concepts.

Otherwise, you might be rather disappointed if you only get a cup of tea in the afternoon when you request “afternoon tea” in a hotel in Argentina.

Different thinking

We all think differently, and much more so if we come from different countries. This may have an impact on communication during business situations.

Some cultures value politeness and use indirect speech in their conversations, while others prefer to express plainly what they think and feel.

At work appraisals and business meetings, the interpretation of what is being said may be influenced by the cultural background of each listener.

For instance: If a UK business manager says, “Your proposal is interesting, but we think that some solutions are ambiguous”, they may not be convinced about signing off on a deal, while a listener from a different country may interpret that they secured a positive transaction with the potential buyer.

Social behaviours

Handshakes: In some countries a firm handshake may be considered rude whilst the same may be a sign of engagement and respect in other nations.

Personal space: Contact cultures (South America, the Middle East, and Southern Europe), which tend to stand close together and touch while they interact, may be perceived as invasive of personal space by their non-contact counterparts (Northern Europe, North America, and Asia).

Opportunities of using languages in business

The main idea about speaking foreign languages is that you can connect with a wider audience.

 If you connect with more people and become aware of different types of thinking, there are more opportunities for developing partnerships in business relationships.

How can language services help you grow your business?

  • In short, language services can help you grow your business because you’ll be reaching new markets and new consumers – it makes the possibility of international selling a reality.
  • Aston University recently released some research that stated that UK SMEs that make use of language professionals for their business are on average 30% more successful in exporting than those who don’t.
  • And further research showed that although a lot of people around the world speak English as another language, consumers much prefer to shop or do business in their own language[1], which is understandable.

So – you’re sold on the idea that putting your website or marketing into another language might be a good thing for your business. But where do you start?!

What is translation?

Translators work with the written word, so can help with things like websites, press releases, packaging etc. Professional translators will always specialise in one or a handful of subjects, so you can be confident they will be comfortable with your subject matter and terminology. Translators can almost always do the work you need in the format you need it – say, from and to a PDF, PowerPoint etc – as most use special software.


Speaking of software, one of the questions we get asked a lot as translators is – why can’t I just use Google Translate?

The technology behind Google Translate is so much more advanced than it used to be, and we can all benefit from it with languages we don’t speak. However, you only need try it out yourself into English, and you’ll see that what is produced never reads naturally or fluently, and it doesn’t cope at all well with nuance. So that marketing message that you’ve spent an age trying to craft will likely be lost, or it will just cause confusion. With a professional translator, they’ll always work with you to make sure the text and message works in the target language, it’s a collaborative process.

This something we call transcreation or localisation and some translators specialise specifically in this, and usually have direct experience of working in marketing or advertising. The transcreation or localisation process is immediately obvious to us as consumers in things like brand names, where the same product might be known by something different in other countries, but it can include everything from the colour palette used, to a change in tone of voice, and respect of cultural norms in your target market country. You might not need something as intense as this but, if you do, there are experts out there that can help make the process as fun as possible!

What is interpreting?

Interpreting is invaluable in sales or supplier meetings where you don’t speak, or don’t feel fluent, in the other language being spoken.

  • Interpreters work with the spoken word.
  • There are different types of interpreting:

Consecutive: you speak, the interpreter takes notes, you pause, the interpreter renders your message in the foreign language.

Consecutive interpreting does not require specialised equipment. However, you should bear in mind that the meetings will take longer if you use consecutive interpreting services.

  • Simultaneous Interpreting, [also Conference interpreting] is a preferred form of interpreting for large events and conferences where the appropriate technical equipment is provided for transmission of the spoken discourse in different languages through different channels.
  • Liaison interpreting is a popular form of interpreting for Trade fairs, where consecutive interpretation of short passages is offered on the go, without the need for taking notes.

When hiring interpreting services, it is a good idea to book in advance, provide reference materials, book a technical rehearsal in case of webinars/online meetings and allow plenty of time for preparation. The interpreter will set up glossaries and get familiar with the topics that will be discussed in your meetings or presentations.

Subtitling, is it for me?

Now that video production is increasingly popular for social media, digital communications and course creators, subtitling can help you reach global audiences.

If you can provide the script of the video that needs subtitling, the translation cost will be lower than if you ask the translators to work on the technical aspects, such as time-coding, synchronization and formatting of the subtitles.

Nowadays, there are many software options used to facilitate subtitling. This process requires human editing, which may demand much more time than the actual translation.

Cross-cultural understanding to facilitate communication.

Awareness of differences such as attitudes to time and work, communication styles and social conventions is key to enhance relationships and business negotiations with speakers of other languages.

Even if you don´t speak other languages, there are cultural experts, like Hayley and Jaquelina, who understand the behaviours, attitudes and preferences of the markets you may want to reach and help you make the most of new international business relationships.

[1] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/9-out-of-10-global-users-ignore-a-product-if-its-not-in-their-native-language-confirms-localization-research-firm-nimdzi-insights-301083928.html