Magazine article Management Review

Smooth Translations

Magazine article Management Review

Smooth Translations

Article excerpt

Everyone has heard tales of humorous translation gaffes. For instance, there's Kentucky Fried Chicken's attempt to gain market share in China with the winning slogan "Eat your fingers off."

Companies are increasingly aware of the lingual and cultural hazards posed by the international market. But they can no longer just translate their slogans and literature directly. In today's more sophisticated and competitive business world, they must wholly adapt their literature to the foreign cultures.

The rapid growth and complexity of international markets have forced companies to outsource their translation and "adaptation" needs. Enter Polyglot International, founded by Raphael Baron, a leading "total language management services" firm based in San Francisco and with offices in six other countries.

Polyglot will "transform anything from one language-culture combination to another language-culture combination." Among its wide array of language management services, Polyglot has provided 100 interpreters for Chevron's Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, while other members of its staff "adapted" computer software for simultaneous release in multiple international markets.

According to Baron, it's no longer adequate just to rely on English as the lingua franca and American culture as the arbiter of good and bad behavior. Instead, companies must make their products accessible to different peoples in different countries.

"Adapting any advertising or promotional material from one culture to another is a very, very challenging issue," says the Moscow-born Baron. For instance, Kamatsu, a large Japanese manufacturing firm, tried to market a dump truck to American buyers with promotional material sporting a fuchsia and teal blue background. Polyglot adapted the Japanese text and layout into promotional material that would better suit the American market by removing the awkward colors. In much the same way, Polyglot can assure an American company that its international advertising conforms to the norms of a different culture and market.

While American companies are expanding into foreign markets, few managers realize the importance and difficulty of language translation. In an informal survey conducted by Polyglot, only one in 10 international managers mentioned language as one of the seven most important aspects of going international, and only 20 percent mentioned cultural issues. "We still are a country that is not used to thinking globally....Americans are usually less sensitive to cultural differences than other nationalities," says Baron.

Adapting a company's message to its international clients is expensive and complex. …

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