To Translate or Not To Translate (That Is The Pregunta)

by Michelle McGinnis on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 in Marketing Efficiency

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to live or work outside of the US, the experience provides a unique view on business.  Former expats seem to understand how US-centric many American companies are.  (Think about your Web forms and date fields: Are they structured in a US-only format?  What about your call centers?  Which countries do they support?) 

Understanding the needs of the international community is essential to expanding your business and embracing global opportunities.   After all, you don’t want your international prospects and partners to think you don’t care enough to make your forms capture their essential information correctly, do you?

This brings me to perhaps the most sensitive topic in international marketing: translation.  To translate or not to translate.  I get this question often and, although there are no clear-cut rules on what to translate, experience does play a role in guiding the decision.  I look at it like this: a reasonable presence (say, 10 people) requires a reasonable effort (translate essential content).

So what's essential?  Webpages?  Collateral?  Contracts?  And, moreover, what if you are expanding to a multi-lingual country like Switzerland?  What language would you translate into in that case?     

I worked for an Israeli-based company for several years and we had offices worldwide.  We never translated materials into Hebrew, but we did translate our most essential collateral into local languages, as we established major offices  in Japan, Germany, China and France, and we sold extensively into Latin and South America.  We did not translate our website however and neither our customers nor our partners objected. 

To translate collateral or a website can be a major undertaking, both in human and capital resources.  Who will manage the sites? How will you ensure that the translated material is current and, most importantly, correctly written in local language?

It's something to think about.  In my opinion, wait until you have a strong presence in a country before considering translation.  It can be an excellent asset in establishing your company in new markets, however, if you fail to execute it properly, the effort could backfire. 

For more on this topic, read the blog from Language Weaver.  There you'll find great tips.

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