0.05% is a Rounding Error!

Inadequate Translation BudgetsIn the summer of 1981, I traveled to England to learn English at EF (Education First), a leader in language education. Although I started the process of learning English at school back home a few years earlier, my father insisted that living with an English family over a six week period and being immersed in the culture and the language will go a long way in increasing my command of the language and my confidence in using it. Thanks dad!

EF, having become the largest private education company in the world, sponsored a study that was released last week in a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, called Competing Across Borders – How cultural and communication barriers affect business.

The study focused on the importance of overcoming cultural and language barriers to become an effective global business player.

Over 500 executives around the world participated in the survey. The majority confirmed the growing global trends and the fact that effective cross-border communication and collaboration are becoming critical to the financial success of their respective companies.

Varying cultures and behaviors were the lead reasons cited to cause the greatest misunderstanding in cross-border communications. But also, almost a quarter of respondents blamed the poor quality of translations.

The report went on to conclude that “companies have clearly recognised the impact that cross-border collaboration and communication […] can have on their fortunes.” But they admitted that companies are not doing enough to overcome the challenges they are facing. “There may well also be a touch of complacency in the top echelons about how much still needs to be done”, the study revealed.

The authors went on to recommend a change in the recruiting practices to bring more multilingual and multicultural staff and to provide employees more language training. Sounds reasonable, but perhaps a narrow inference mainly due to the bias of their sponsor EF toward their business model, on-location language learning!

The Wall Street Journal cited the study and went on to concur that language and cross-cultural education is essential for new hires, but also that global companies should try to adopt English as their official language. Do you detect a hint of bias here too?

Not every company has the time and resources to offer its key employees the ability to travel abroad and learn key languages and cultures, like my father generously afforded me many years ago. It would also be naïve to expect English to be the answer for all. But each company should at least have sufficient budgets to accurately translate key content in all required languages. Yet in today’s indisputable global marketplace, with organizations generating a worldwide GDP of $65 Trillion, with many big players exceeding 50% of their revenues from international markets, it is inexcusable that only $31B is spent on interpretation and translation services. This is less than 0.05% of the world’s GDP – a rounding error!

Wake up Wall Street… The language of business is not English; it is the language of the customer!

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