You do not have to search hard to find expert advice on doing business in Asia – teaching such basics as handing over business cards with both hands, saving face and guanxi (connections), yet the vital business of quality translation is often overlooked. For businesses selling goods or services in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region the need for effective, compelling communications is fundamental, and even purchasers will need to obtain accurate translations of supplier information and (hopefully) contracts.

The golden rule when getting any translations done is to value them as highly as you would your English-language communications. Remember, it’s your brand. If you would not entrust the copywriting of your English brochure to the lowest bidder, then it would be unwise to do so for the Japanese version. Translation is not a mechanical or secretarial exercise, it is more challenging than copywriting or technical authoring.

It is important to note that translating to or from APAC languages is more difficult than translation between European languages, as there are greater linguistic and cultural differences. Expect the APAC languages to be more challenging, take longer and cost more than French or German.

On top of the linguistic issues, many of the APAC languages present technical challenges such as encoding systems, double-byte characters, problematic fonts, and line breaks that need to be set manually. Then, of course, there are the cultural, political and legal issues – colours and images may need to be changed in your artwork, and certain content may need to be removed completely before publication in countries such as China or Vietnam.

Finally, the translation industry is less mature in Asia than it is in the UK, and average quality standards are lower. Even if you use a UK agency the translation work should be carried out in Asia, so it is imperative that you ensure that your translation is done by the minority who are as serious about quality as you are about your brand.

What is good enough for your local competitors may not be laughed at in the same way it would be over here, but if you want to present yourself as a high-end, market leader you had better make sure your communications reflect that.

Here are some tips for getting it right:

  • Resist the temptation to get the work done cheaply, it is easy to buy incredibly cheap translations, but if budget is tight it is a better idea to translate less content and do it well.
  • Watch out for a supplier of other services, or a partner, bolting on translations free of charge – would you let them write the copy for your English brochure?
  • If you need Chinese, make sure you choose the correct Chinese variant. Do not believe people who tell you that Chinese is Chinese wherever it is spoken – you need to optimize it for the target market.
  • Always order translation with separate editing and proofing included. If you use a freelancer, have his/her work checked for accuracy and style by a second linguist.
  • If you use an agency make sure they truly understand the issues relating to the APAC languages you need, rather than seeing it as just another name on a list somewhere between Afrikaans and Zulu. Talk to the project manager before you commission the work.
  • Pay as much attention to any typesetting or website work as you do to the translation. The impression of a good translation can be compromised by page layout done by someone who does not know about the language.

Keep these in mind and you will give yourself the best chance of communicating in a way that helps rather than hinders your activities in Asia.