Disclaimer: My observations on the state of English for non-native locales are based on personal experience in the Asia Pacific. I understand that there are exceptions to every rule. A minority of companies and service providers have cross-cultural or globalisation programs in place or already employ those with English as their first language to act on their behalf.
English is the Primary choice for Business Globalisation
As early as 2012, the Harvard Business Review, in a lengthy article, pointed out that English is the language of international business. Globalisation programs needs English… Logically, whether business offerings involve services or tangible products, those dealing with companies in English-speaking countries need to ensure that effective communication is possible.
Unfortunately, many companies’ attempts at English communication range from mediocre to downright laughable, failing dismally to meet even basic coherency in many cases.
We’ve all experienced difficulties when transferred to low-cost Asian call centres, desperately seeking help with products and services purchased a continent away. Explain or simplify as you may, communication is often impossible.
No habla! – Globalisation Dilemmas
When trying to purchase a computer in Asia a few years ago, I connected to the company’s (most multinationals suffer from the same issue so not naming the company) ‘English’ sales line, credit card at the ready. I was unable to do so, even though I had only one variation from the standard product spec, an English-language Windows OS.
I ended up building my own system with a standalone Windows licence. I could not make the English-speaking sales rep understand my requirement for an operating system in the language he was responsible for.
Okay, let’s assume verbal English communication has issues in the Asia Pacific but what about written English? More of the same, unfortunately, as local ‘experts’ are cheaper than native speakers, offering ‘English services’ they are not qualified to provide.
Their customers are none the wiser as they lack the English skills necessary to criticise the results presented in marketing material, documentation, user manuals and, of course, websites.
What can these clients expect when competing in an international English-speaking market against native companies and companies from their own country that have involved native speakers? Inclusion in a supplier shortlist is unlikely, in my opinion.
The Five-Step Plan to Globalisation Success
Leaning on a strong project management background, how would I approach selling into the Asia Pacific, where a language other than English applies?
- Step 1–Identify your target market, let’s say Japan or the largest of all, China.
- Step 2–Identify the language skills in your organisation. My wife is Chinese so no problem there. Japan is a different story.
- Step 3–Identify the best way to solve my Japanese language deficiency and confirm if written and verbal communication is required. Should I return to Ireland and find a company there to translate my material and join conference calls? Wouldn’t a Japanese company make more sense? Let’s be very clear, I would only involve an Irish company if that company had Japanese natives employed. Why then are companies in the Asia Pacific so keen to avoid paying for those with English as their native language? Other than costs and ill-founded patriotism, I have no answer.
- Step 4–Create a shortlist of possible localisation or globalisation providers and request a sample translation for review.
- Step 5-Confirm the accuracy of the translation. I may not know Japanese but have several former bilingual colleagues that are willing to verify the integrity of the translation. If YOU do not, then social media is a good bet. Simply join a Japanese business group on LinkedIn, Reddit or Facebook and ask.
Our primary aim is to facilitate improvement in written English (UK and U.S. variants).
I encourage companies with English as a second language to follow the simple 5-step plan when faced with an immediate need for localisation or globalisation services, especially when English skills are not available in-house or are sourced by local ‘experts’.
Excuse all the quotes but I obviously have a problem with the dismally qualified offering services. Perhaps I should follow their example and offer courses in string theory or astrophysics?
If these ‘experts’ hired English-speaking natives then costs would increase but Asia Pacific companies would certainly have a better shot at obtaining new international clients than before.
In conclusion, globalisation companies come in many forms. It’s not an area I want to focus on but thanks to my bilingual wife, we are able to help companies with written translation to and from Mandarin Chinese. Note that our primary aim is to facilitate improvement in written English (UK and U.S. variants).
Other globalisation companies offer a variety of services, including video and audio production, for example. We’re happy to recommend companies that offer these solutions as needed.
If YOUR company uses a third party for English written communication, I, as a public service, will happily review a sample paragraph or URL for clarity. I am also prepared to work with ‘experts’ to help them improve their English skills by training their staff or adding proofreading to their existing process.
P.S. You’re probably wondering why this site is not provided in Simplified Chinese.
Client work takes priority and our approach to marketing is primarily by word of mouth and social media in target countries. I don’t want to deal with clients or students without a basic level of English as our service offerings relate to upscaling English not starting from scratch, unless hiring a writer is an option.
Updating this site in Chinese is simply a time-consuming task I’m not prepared to take on, as client projects would suffer.