They say Love is the universal language, and that may well be true…
And English may be the International Business Language, but there are more than 3,200 languages spoken in Asia Pacific, and Ethnologue 2009 (published by SIL International) has 6,909 distinct languages catalogued.
English, universal as it is, at some point needs to be translated, its arrogant to think otherwise, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cater to everyone, in every language, making the most of the most widely spoken languages around the globe makes good business sense. It would be unwise to expect people will adapt to you, regardless of how impressive your offer may be, and equally foolish to expect your company’s products and services to be comprehended by a ‘proficient’ English speaking audience on foreign shores. English has always been open to interpretation, even by those of us fluent in it.
Thinking back to your school days, it’s probably still all too clear that the English language is not an easy one to master. The difficult and sometimes crazy spelling rules that seem to lack sense, which synonym you use where, the way stressing different words in a sentence changes the whole meaning of the phrase, these along with irregular verbs, are the stuff that make us sweat before our English exams, and makes English a hard enough first language.As native English speakers, we learn from an early age, and pick up things subconsciously, even though we know that parts of our language don’t actually seem to make much sense. But give a thought to those friends around the globe, trying to navigate through our absurd language and give yourself a business advantage over your competitors.
English has borrowed words from many languages, from Albanian, Balti, Bengali, Cantonese, Croatian, French, Greek, German, Italian, Latin, Mandarin, Swahili, Yiddish and Ukrainian. English speakers have an easier time learning Spanish Italian or French than they do Korean or Japanese (even though English has borrowed words from them too). And conversely, Europeans find it easier to pick up English as a second language, than do people from Asia.
Every language has its own weirdness and funny nuances that give it its own unique flavour, and translation can become difficult. Failing to carry the meaning from one language to another is often all too easy. A term in one language may have no equivalent in another, or the associations might differ wildly. Rendering idioms literally often makes no sense at all. Subtleties are lost and when things get complex, even correct grammar will disappear. Puns, connotations,sexual inuendos, cultural references and figurative speech can all create problems.
There is a high risk of error when translating documents or software from one’s native language into a second language, which is why most professionals translate into their own language. A skilled translator might need to be almost as creative as the original writer in creating a satisfying parallel text. And when the language translator is really excellent, their work goes undetected.
An important fact to remember is, you as a company have no way of ascertaining the level of English your audience comprehends, written or spoken, therefore even in situations of ‘English speaking’ proficiency claims, your message or document may be misinterpreted by the level of English your reader has.
‘Plain English’ may not always be clear or straightforward in an international arena, and there is no room in business for distortion or deviation from your branding, manual or message.