It’s a widely held belief (especially in the UK!) that English is the natural language of choice for international business dealings, and that most business types have a good command of the language. But the reality is that in fact the overwhelming majority – 94% – of people across the world do not have English as their first language.
In fact, not even as many Europeans as we think have as good a command of English as we may have realised. For example, under a fifth of Spanish people read and write it easily, and only just over a quarter of Italians speak our native tongue well.
Equally, one survey from the British Chambers of Commerce on the impact of foreign languages on UK business reported that exporting firms which translated their sales literature for their export markets, and who employed staff with foreign language skills, on average experienced sales growth of around 7% on the previous year, which was worth around £300,000 per business.
So translating your material really is necessary. And while there are plenty of websites which provide free, automated services if you need, say, a French translation. It’s true that an online business translation service may be able to give you the gist of a document if you are in a hurry, but, don’t expect accuracy levels greater than 75% at best. (Put differently, around one in four words could be wrong.)
Your best bet is to go for a reputable, professional supplier with membership of one of the professional translation associations. Ask for references and free samples of their work.