Is your international trade getting lost in translation?

By Sophie Howe, Managing Director, Comtec Translations

When trading with foreign companies, are you speaking their language?

Greater return on investment, enhanced productivity, a broader client base, and healthier financial performance are just some of the many benefits of exporting. These benefits are accessible to any company trading overseas, but the ones that invest in really understanding and communicating in the languages used in their foreign target markets, and respecting local cultural etiquette, are the ones that will benefit the most.

What may surprise you is that only 6% of the world’s population actually speaks English so if you want to trade successfully in international markets, it always helps to learn the local language. In fact, according to the European Commission’s recent ELAN survey of European businesses, those proactive and proficient in the use of foreign languages achieve 45% more export sales. If you are looking to export your products and services, then this is a figure you cannot afford to ignore.

Plan your language strategy

Very few of us these days have time to commit to language courses so we advise that you plan a language strategy for your business in order to maximise export opportunities. The first step is to identify your international target markets and the languages they speak – remember, many countries are multi-lingual. You will then need to spend some time thinking about how you are going to target each market. Often this will involve producing a range of marketing materials and information, and if you are manufacturing products, this may also include technical information for manuals or even product labels. All this material will need to be translated and probably localised for each individual foreign market. You will also need to give serious consideration to the different cultures in the different countries, and even in the different regions within one country. You’ve probably already heard the horror stories where one word with positive connotations in one country has negative connotations in another. Also, watch out for spelling mistakes once material has been translated. Even transposing letters in a word can have disastrous consequences in your foreign markets.

Getting the best from your existing team

Most companies already have a wealth of knowledge and expertise within their existing teams that lies largely untapped. Before you think about hiring a new member staff who happens to speak several different languages, find out who has a knowledge of foreign languages and cultures in your company – you might be pleasantly surprised! It is often the case that a little knowledge goes a long way, and even a basic understanding of a foreign language may help your company to respond quickly to overseas enquiries. If your team does not have this experience, then consider hiring someone who can do the job. This doesn’t have to be someone employed directly by your company. These days translation companies are adept at fulfilling many of the services and functions required in a company’s International Department of Office, and may even be a more cost-effective option than employing staff directly.

Of course, international communication is more than just the spoken language – international communication can take many different forms, and it’s amazing how much information you can gather about foreign markets just by asking people around you in your business, and in your wider networks. You can also access government support too, and often government agencies have various subsidies available to help companies trade internationally. As well as financial support, the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) can provide a wealth of information, advice and guidance about localising your campaigns for international target markets.

Calling in the experts

There are many things you can do yourself to prepare for international trading and exporting your products and services, but if this is not an option, then it always helps to have expert guidance and support to hand. When choosing your translation partner spend time establishing what track record they have, their levels of expertise, and how long they have been working in translation. At Comtec we have been helping companies to plan and implement effective export strategies for over 30 years. You can also check their quality credentials by contacting the Association of Translation Companies and make sure the translators you are looking at are certified. It is also worth finding a company that uses a translation memory facility. This software allows translated copy to be stored and retrieved later, ensuring consistency in style and terminology across all material and eliminating the need for unnecessary re-translation.

Finding the right translation company takes time but it is worth doing the research. When you do select one, you will need to provide them with a clear brief, and existing reference material.

More than translation

Trading overseas often requires more than translating marketing material and technical information. Members of your team are also likely to visit your overseas customers, and you may need interpreters on hand for this. Interpreters should be seen as a cost-effective element of your overall communications plan and can be used in a number of scenarios. At Comtec, we specialise in consecutive interpreting which is commonly used in one-to-one meetings, simultaneous interpreting in real-time and telephone interpreting. Employing an interpreter who is familiar with your products, services and target markets to accompany you on client visits will pay dividends in the long run!

If you want to be one of the companies with 45% more international business, then choose to work with a translation partner with the knowledge and expertise of your foreign markets.

For further information, please contact:

John Edden, Bridge PR & Media Services Tel: 024 76 520025, Email:


Sophie Howe, Comtec Translations, Tel: 01926 335 681

Sophie Howe is Director of Operations at Comtec Translations where she helps many companies internationalise through translation services. She is responsible for the design and delivery of business strategy, staff management and development, sales, marketing and development of promotional material as well as the management of language translation projects. Throughout her career Sophie has helped many big businesses find rewarding routes to market in many different countries.




Documents & Links


If you want to trade successfully in international markets, it always helps to learn the local language
Sophie Howe, Managing Director, Comtec Translations