As the Latin American technology markets heat up, the rest of the world is engaging and trying to make inroads into these potentially lucrative markets. Decreased communication and travel costs combined with lower trade barriers in recent years have make it infinitely more cost effective to enter markets like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico. But the one aspect of doing business in Latin America or anywhere else where there are no short cuts is TRANSLATION.
Let’s look at the areas where troubles can sprout:
Shortchanging Critical Branding in Marketing Copy
Marketing copy is key to a company’s branding. There are a variety of free tools that will translate your website pages into many languages. These free tools are never geared towards industry terminology. The translation is oftentimes incorrect for the situation. What this says about your company in other languages is that your company is careless and cheap. I don’t know of many companies looking to include these traits in their branding.
Google Translate as a Starting Point, Not the End Point, for Key Communications
Free online translation tools like Google Translate can be very helpful when translating basic information. But when used incorrectly, it can cause misunderstandings as well. For any important written communications in another language with partners, clients and potential clients, consult with a trusted professional translation resource to verify what you are about to send.
Hire Two Local Interpreters Instead of One
This may sound like overkill, but constant interpreting between two languages takes an enormous amount of energy. If your business dealings will require more than two hours’ worth of interpreting, hire a second interpreter so that the pair can take turns. Also, it is not unusual for the listening interpreter to catch mistakes. Ideally, the interpreters will not only speak the local dialect, but also have familiarity with your industry’s terminology. It is also helpful if your interpreter has cross-cultural experience with your culture and the one you are visiting. The classic example of this came from U.S. President Nixon’s first envoy to China. The Chinese famously compliment others but deflect any compliments returned. The common reply to a compliment is “Where? Where?” (meaning who are you giving this compliment to – because it certainly couldn’t be me who is being called smart, handsome, clever, etc.) The Nixon team was continually confused by the where question. A translator familiar with both cultures might have clarified the misunderstanding sooner.
Dialect Changes Everything
In the U.S., we all chuckle when a European visits our office and asks for a rubber. A rubber in Europe is a pencil eraser and a rubber in the American dialect. Good-natured professionals from both sides of the Atlantic usually consider this to be a humorous situation. The other common English dialect pitfall is the word “root”. In the U.S., we root for a team to win a game (root = cheer). In Australia and New Zealand, it has a much more vulgar meaning. I leave you to translate that situation with a trusted Aussie friend. Nuances of dialect are like walking through a minefield. Spanish, in particular, has widely varied word usage. A translator must be familiar with ALL of the dialects to avoid being misinterpreted. A professionally certified translator will significantly lower your risk of looking foolish at best and incompetent at worst.
Most growing companies need to make do on shoestring-sized product marketing and business development budgets. There are many places where a company can cut corners without many consequences, but translation and interpretation should not be among your corner-cutting options.