Comtec urges exporters to mind their language


I was delighted to support the recent Export Week organised by the UKTI, speaking at 2 Midlands based events on language and culture in international business.

As well as encouraging the attendees of both talks that opportunities to sell overseas are truly endless, I emphasised that the biggest prizes are only available to those that demonstrate a clear cultural understanding of their target audience with investment in language capability.

Almost everyone I have spoken to about building new business overseas has said that it is worthwhile to take the time to learn something about the country’s language – even if the other person speaks your language fluently. It’s unlikely that you’ll immediately be able to conduct business negotiations in the language and I don’t think anyone expects you to, but it is always worthwhile to make the effort and helps in making connections with potential customers.

The same is true for culture. Embrace the culture of a new market and don’t see it as a barrier. Learn as much as you can about cultural norms – people won’t expect you to change your style completely but at least you will know what to expect and you can adapt your approach.

Here are my top tips for first time exporters:

  • Even if your customer speaks your language fluently – learn some words of theirs,  a greeting as a minimum
  • A little knowledge of their language will help you understand better when they speak yours – e.g. Finnish doesn’t distinguish between genders, Chinese has no tenses
  • Use professional translators – your reputation and brand are at stake! I’m sure you can identify pretty quickly if a website has been translated into English clumsily. What impression does it give you? Not great, I expect. I say no more.
  • Web users are four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in their own language, so consider translating your website to attract more international customers
  • It’s not just words, in some countries colours, numbers and symbols have significance that could impact on your sales and marketing material.
  • Learn the basic protocol for greeting people, talking and building relationships and conducting business meetings

Wherever in the world you think your business could grow, Comtec offers support by supplying a range of business language translation services. To find out more please contact a member of our team on + 44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email

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