International trade has always relied on effective translation skills. The main change over the centuries is that the sheer scale of international trade has increased dramatically. For a business that restricts itself to commercial activity within a single nation-state, there is really little need for translation services. There are a number of exceptions of course. Some countries are multi-lingual, i.e. there may be more than one official language used, even if one tends to be used most in commercial transactions.
Use of Business Translation within a Single Multilingual Nation
Switzerland, for example, uses French, German and Italian. Business interactions naturally tend to include translations into the three main languages of the country, even though Swiss tend to at least trilingual. In other countries, inward migration may have forced a change in the percentage of languages used. This is most obvious in the U.S. where Spanish is a clear second language.
In many parts of the U.S. it may even be the most common language, pushing English into second place. Because a failure to include Spanish in business communication would automatically remove a large number of people or dissuade them from business interaction, there is a growing and huge demand for translation services by businesses.
International Business Translation
The international situation is a macrocosm of the U.S. situation. Large corporations and many smaller ones these days have discovered that translation can gain them access too much larger markets. The generally universal existence of the Internet makes online marketing, sales and distribution a reality where this may have been prohibitive a couple of decades ago. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to international marketing and sales consumers prefer to read and respond to information in their own native language.
English may still be the de-facto international language, but businesses that cannot adapt their use of the languages of their newly targeted markets will inevitably fall to competition from those that rise to the challenge. That means that businesses must employ multilingual translation agencies which specialize in the various forms of communication that the businesses need to use. As has been mentioned, this may be marketing and the setting up of online sales, but it also includes translation of more formal business communication.
It could include translation of applications for patents, contracts, legal requirements and purchase agreements for international bases. It would most certainly include translation of internal communication between branches of a large business that have been set up
Evidence of the Need for English Language-based Businesses to use Translation Services
If there is still some doubt in the minds of business owners why they should use business translation services, an examination of the percentage of different populations around the world that can understand English should convince them.
Less than 40% of French people can speak and understand English enough to understand and use a business website. Of course, they can use instant computer-generated translation tools to discover what an English language web page is all about, but why would they when another comparable business has included a well designed French language version? Scandinavians can understand English much better than the French, or Spanish, but what about Russians and Chinese? These are potentially huge markets but only around 5% of Russians are sufficiently fluent in English, while that percentage drops to less than 1% of mainland Chinese. Of course, it works both ways.
Chinese online businesses that ignore other languages will inevitably lose business to those that get a handle on translation. It’s not just Chinese to English, either. As everyone knows, China is a huge manufacturing base and sells its manufactured goods all around the world. It would never have got to that stage if it ignored the importance of business translation.