Translation is often not seen as a priority for many U.S. companies with global reach. English is the lingua franca of business, so why incur the unnecessary expense of translating content into all the languages of your company’s global employees and customers? This article will discuss three risk factors that can result from not translating your materials: lost sales opportunities, reduced employee safety and costly legal ramifications.
1. Lost Sales Opportunities
Several international studies confirm that, in spite of living in a globalized world, buyers still choose to buy from companies that speak to them in their own language. We feel more at ease if we understand what we buy. If we do not clearly understand a product or service, we are reluctant to buy it. Addressing your prospective clients in their language will convey the trust and proximity they need to utilize and purchase your products or services instead of those of your competitors.
As an example, a U.S. equipment manufacturer had been working with its Chinese customer for many years when a new sales rep suggested they translate their manuals into Chinese. Management said there was no need; their client had never asked for it in all the years they had worked together. Several months later, a competitor from The Netherlands managed to lure the Chinese customer away from them—and for more money. How? They approached the Chinese company in their native language and offered all the manuals and support materials in Chinese. Sad to say, that with the loss of that one large client, the company went out of business.
2. Reduced Employee Safety
The number of non-native English speakers at U.S. companies continues to increase at both domestic and international locations. Many of these workers hold high-risk positions. Therefore, taking a proactive initiative is critical to ensuring worker safety. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. Bridging the language gap in workplaces small and large with the ultimate goal of aggressively eliminating injuries, illnesses and fatalities for all workers, is essential for success.
Traditional safety training is not effective for employees with limited English skills, especially when delivered by a trainer who expects the workers will absorb it sufficiently to protect themselves and those around them. Furthermore, safety memos, posters or e-learning are not as productive when only presented in English. Efficient communication with employees with limited English skills results in fewer workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, as well as increased morale, productivity and reduced costs. Injuries impact insurance and unemployment rates, and can carry legal consequences.
OSHA has alliances and public-sector outreach initiatives for non-English speaking workers in the U.S. Many OSHA publications and safety training materials are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Creole, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.
3. Costly Legal Ramifications
The legal ramifications of not having a translation of even the simplest of documents can have a costly impact on a company. The legal realm of translation is quite broad and can cover any of the following, both internally (employees, distributors, or vendors) or externally (customers or competition):
- Product liability cases or a class action suits from misuse of the product and injury;
- Loss of proprietary information and trade secrets;
- Law suits from employees;
- Breach of contract and use of logos;
- Patent infringement on a current patent held in another country;
- Delays in exporting, importing or IRB approvals.
Other countries require the translation of specific material to be compliant for sale and use. Industries like chemical, manufacturing, medical and pharmaceutical may need to provide translated product labels, instructions for use or equipment warning decals.
Even if your industry or product does not have rules that mandate translation, companies that sell manufacturing equipment, B2B products, software or consumer products (such as food, beauty items, and toys) should consider the risks of not translating material. Be safe: Consider translating labels and instructions for use for any product that could present a hazard or danger if improperly used.