E-Commerce and the good old lingua franca: Part One – Translation

Photo: hdur

Growing up in rural Australia in the nineties and early naughties I would not exactly call myself an internet native, but I was part of the generation who dreamed of electric sheep, a global community and the worldwide availability of – well anything. But maybe because too few of the dreamers ended up becoming decision makers, or maybe most policy makers really are the zombies they look like. Either way, this vision has not (yet) become reality. A lot of business, even in the tourist industry, still don’t offer an English language version of their website. Too many business are approaching e-commerce with the motto “talk global, think local” and it isn’t going to work much longer – we hope.

English: More Than Traffic

Ignoring the dissatisfied grumblings about linguistic colonialism which inevitably pop up now and again, English has established itself pretty well as the lingua franca of the business world and the anglophone world has benefited significantly from this. Not that I wouldn’t mind if we had stuck with Latin, but considering what e-commerce is doing to my native tongue as it is, maybe Latin is glad to retire into the forgotten (perhaps repressed) realms of the private school classroom.

Businesses, especially in the service industry may not reap immediate benefits from an English language website in terms of turnover, but it is an essential part of brand building. Even with Chinese growth in the e-commerce sector, Manderin is not going to become the international language of business any time soon. In fact, English skills are no longer even a nice competitive advantage – they are a basic requirement in international business.
Before investing in staff training, an English language website and project documentation is always a good start. And so the search for translation starts…

Cost in Translation

Translation comes in many shapes and forms. There is the don’t go there (a staff member with overseas experience), the really don’t go there (an intern with high school English), and then there is good God what where you thinking! – Google translate.

Many companies fall back on these options though because professional translation appears to be prohibitively expensive and it can be. The going rate for a state certified translator varies from approx 1.5€ per line to 20 cents per word. But this service is only necessary for documents requiring a certified translation – which is rarely the case in day to day business. In the long run, employing a bilingual native speaker is the best alternative. International students are an option, but will only be with your company a year at a time. Finding a native speaker with long term residency in your country is the best option, though not always easy.

Advantages of In-House Translators

In-house translators are cost effective

June was not a particularly busy month for me with 1727 lines of translation. At a modest fee of 1€ per line, that’s still a lot of money – at a fee of 20 cents per word, it’s even more. As an employee doing 12 hours per week, I cost a lot less than that – a lot less. If there is a large amount of documentation for a client on the table, the difference can be as much as five thousand Euros in a month. But don’t forget that translation is a skilled profession and bilingual native speakers don’t grow on trees – not every native speaker can speak your language fluently and not every native speaker has plans to stay.

You’ll never to able to pay your translator what they’re worth or even their freelance hourly rate (that’s kind of the point) so don’t be too stingy on their pay package.

Company Native Translators Work More Effectively

Every company naturally develops its own writing style and way of doing things. Being part of a company for a long time makes it easier for your translator to work quickly and to keep the context of their work in mind.

Native Speakers are Multi-Purpose

The position description may require a translator, but once you’ve got a native speaker in the house, they can proof read, write original content, train others, and answer questions for all the other staff as well.


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