cargo ship exportRecently the University of Surrey conducted a survey to define what language strategy means for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and analyse the impact of only using English in non-English speaking markets. The results showed that companies with a language strategy achieved a 44% higher proportion of export sales than those without. The current financial crisis has led many companies to consider turning to the global marketplace in order to boost sales. Going global increases the importance of foreign language communication. Moreover, the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) recently stated that languages skills are one of the most important characteristics of a successful exporter. But what should SMEs be including in their language strategy?

One of the most evident techniques for internationalisation is translating the company website. Translating a website is a specialised task that involves careful consideration of the target markets. Today more than half of internet users are not mother-tongue English speakers and are therefore likely to search in their own language. Translating online content into other languages and adapting it to other cultures is the first step to company expansion. For this reason, companies often decide to create individual websites for each country. For example, Portuguese is the native language in Brazil, Mozambique and Angola as well as Portugal. These countries all speak different varieties of Portuguese and have different cultural backgrounds. Elements such as currency, numbers, idioms and slang should all be localised to the specific country in order to optimise marketing strategies. If clients are able to read a company website which fits with their cultural and linguistic expectations they are more likely to invest in a product.

Another effective way to overcome the language barrier is hiring interpreters. There are numerous advantages to having an interpreter present in business meetings and negotiations. Firstly, they are able to help you convey your message coherently and avoid misunderstandings based on language. They can perform either simultaneous or consecutive interpreting depending on your requirements. Secondly, the interpreter will be well versed in knowledge, beliefs and practices of both cultures and can even offer business tips on how to approach the foreign company. This can be hugely beneficial when dealing with vastly different countries such as England and China and can also improve the business relationship.

Foreign language website content and a skilled interpreter will directly boost export sales and help establish a good working relationship with actual and potential clients. SMEs should adapt to a world which is increasingly technological and globalised by carefully considering a language strategy.

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