Why quality language translation is vital for exporters

Why quality language translation is vital for exporters article image

When exporting to non-English speaking countries it’s important to ensure your marketing message does not get lost in translation.

The purpose of language translation is threefold – to place you in a position of being able to fully pursue any commercial advantage, to prevent or minimise situations of potential commercial danger or disadvantage or to ensure you are fully and accurately informed as to the status or your organisations potential opportunities and/or liabilities.

Let’s look at some practical examples:

Many thousands of international tenders and associated commercial opportunities are accessible over the internet but most of these are in the local language.

All too often Australian businesses wastefully chase after unsuitable if not unwinnable potential opportunities thereby burning through finite budgets while missing or passing over potentially easy sales all because of misunderstood or poor quality translation.

The “micro” terms of a local language tender may be cast in particularly delicate and discreet prose that can only be revealed in clear and precise terms by a proper translation.

In one recent case the tender terms stipulated only certain local businesses could be used for a particularly range of activities. This had a major effect on how the other terms of the tender and the local costs would play out. Due to this oversight, the Australian business that won the tender actually lost money on the project – all because of an easily avoidable misunderstanding over language.

Mistranslated key search phrases

Another Australian business was somewhat frustrated over how few commercial opportunities they could find in a major international market. They were later surprised to learn they had continually and unwittingly mistranslated key search phrases. In a 12-month period they had missed out on more than 12 tender/quotation opportunities they may have won – all due to a lack of proper translation.

In another case an Australian business had not fully translated the legal contract between buyer and seller. Vitally, the foreign language contract in which was stipulated payments terms and milestones had not been translated with some sections being ineffectually interpreted using internet translators.

As a result, the Australian company missed all the key milestones contained in the contract and therefore payments to this Australian export business were held up for months while the confusion was sorted out.

The squeeze on cash flow nearly put them under. This drama could have been avoided with professional language translation.

Signing legal documents

If you are about to sign or have signed a contract inferring any direct or indirect legal obligation it is absolutely essential you have such a contract fully translated. This should not be a standard “off the shelf” translation but a commercial translation so that all the nuances of language associated with commercialism and the associated technical terms are brought out in the English language translation.

One Australian exporter had crafted their promotional advertising around an internet translation and were unaware they had used a keyword that had a double meaning.

The heading of the advert in the local language loudly and proudly proclaimed “TURD.”

Ribald online humour

Another had used the direct translation of the English anagram which when re-anagrammed in the local language provoked the most ribald online humour but unsurprisingly no sales.  Such translation embarrassment was easily avoidable.

Why spend so much time and effort getting a product ready for the international market and then squandering all your hard work when realisable success is in sight?  Dealing with the details is all part of your planning & preparation for maximising your opportunities for commercial success.

If you are selling value add products and expecting premium prices for your product you must support your efforts with proper language translation and quality documentation. 

David Gray is lead consultant at BizTechWrite, a leading supplier of language translation, technical documentation and export support services. Contact:


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