The Language Bridge

"But everyone speaks English!"

"But everyone speaks English". We hear this all the time in Britain as an excuse for not learning languages. This excuse seeps into business as well: from the decision not to translate your website, to choosing a non-linguist to represent you at that key international trade fair. But what's the truth? Having lived in France, Germany, the Netherlands and now Belgium, I can unequivocally say that, while many claim to be native-level English-speakers, this simply isn't true. Take for example this philosophical sign that I recently found at a Belgian campsite:

 Poor English spotted in BelgiumOK, you probably understand what this sign is trying to say (although you are most likely wondering what on earth questions of time have to do with rubbish). But what this sign shows us is that not everyone is as good at English as we, or they themselves, think. Someone somewhere is so confident in their poor English that they laminated it. This wasn't a first draft. This was the finished product. And OK, maybe this sign isn’t important in the grand scheme of things and perhaps the most harm it will do is make a British woman spend her time writing a blog about it... maybe you're right. 

But the sign is more likely just the tip of the iceberg, with over confidence in language skills potentially having far reaching consequences for the campsite’s business. Choosing the wrong keywords placed on their website could mean losing out on that extra boost to sales. Communication difficulties could be affecting the customer return rate as campers choose a different site next time where they better understand what they are paying for. It could even be affecting the amount of time and money spent on litter-picking...

Communicating in a way understood by your customers can mean the difference between a sale or not. So if you want your business to thrive in international markets, don’t take for granted that everyone speaks English. Make sure you get your website and key documents professionally translated. Choose the right people with the right language skills to help you at those trade fairs so that you win the deals you need. Give the right impression and make it easy for your potential customers to become sales. It will pay off.

Alex Wood

Posted: 19th September 2015


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