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A Retiring Glance At Trade – Past, Present And Future

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May 2010

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1) Please provide a company background including when it was established, where it is located, how many staff you employ etc.

 

betterlanguages.com Ltd. is a translation company offering translation services between English and all major languages. Our website, unsurprisingly is www.betterlanguages.com. Much of our work is for UK exporters, and clients include leading brands Mothercare, M&S, Iceland Foods, Thornton’s, and Avery Dennison. We also work with a large number of local SME’s translating brochures, marketing materials, websites, and product information such as food labelling, product user guides, and pack copy.

 

Although originally established in the late 1980s, the company has really taken off since 2005, with the launch of a new website, currently available in 7 languages, and winning major contracts with Mothercare and New Look. We work with a network of translators and proofreaders, and are always recruiting translators in new language pairs and specialism’s. The work is highly technical, and translators are normally native of the target language (so for example for English to Simplified Chinese translation, the translator would be a Chinese native, whilst for Chinese to English, they would be an English native). The reason for this is that expression and writing style are always best in your native language. The majority of our translators are also Masters level qualified in translation. Broadly there are two routes of training, either language graduates who then specialise in translation, or technical experts in a given field, who then train as translators.

 

2) Please provide an overview of the products and services offered and areas of specialisation.

 

Our largest growth area of work over the last twelve months has been food label translation, including our largest ever project into a single language, nearly 300 product lines into Hungarian. We have also been involved in a very interesting project translating marketing information and press releases from English to French for The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, following the find of a mass First World War Grave, at Fromelles in France.

 

We undertook our first interpreting assignment outside the UK, between English and Catalan at Jerez in southern Spain. We have seen a markeed rise in demand for Far Eastern languages, and are translating increasing amounts of Bahasa Indonesian and Malay, as well as Korean, and both Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

 

We have developed our website this year, with the addition of Romanian for the first time, we have also launched www.betterlanguages.mobi which allows customers to access translation advice and support from a handheld device. 

 

3) How did you find out about emita and what benefits do you find the most valuable?

 

We were members of the Nottinghamshire International Trade Forum, which disbanded after the founding of EMITA. As a translation business there is always more to know about target markets, so we find the country specific EMITA events particularly useful. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of language and culture when exporting. We are exporters too, as we work directly with clients in other countries including the US, China, France, Denmark, Romania and Norway. We want to further expand this part of our business, and have taken part in trade missions to Brussels, Romania and Singapore over the last 18 months.

 

4) How long has your company been active in the export / import market and which countries do you currently trade with?

 

The company has been active in export since its earliest days, I remember in the early 1990s we used to receive orders from Hong Kong by fax overnight. Time zoning is very efficient working East to West, as we can process the order first thing in the morning, and with label translations the client has the translation by start of business their next working day. Now of course translations are sent by e-mail, which is much more efficient and less risky.

 

Because our service is largely export focused, we translate for a wide variety of markets. One of the problems even for large retailers is the limited amount of space available on pack, meaning that they normally have to select no more than 10 languages. This usually means that a standardised version of the target language is required, so for example we normally translate into a standard modern Arabic, for use in a number of countries, rather than a country specific variant.

 

We import from a large number of countries too, as many of our translators are in-country in the target market, we work regularly with translators in over 50 countries, spread over 5 continents.

 

5) What made you decide to expand your business overseas?

 

Translation really is a global business, as being internet based, we can send and receive work from anywhere in the world, providing there is a good internet connection. Much of our work is legally required, for example food packaging has to be in the local language or languages, so demand for our service is a “must” rather than a “desirable”. Even with marketing materials, you will normally get much further with marketing in the language and style of the country you are targeting. The assumption that the whole world speaks English just isn’t true, in Holland for example, which has a high level of English spoken, around 50% of the population speak no English at all, of the other half, there is a wide variance of ability. This means that if you want to sell a consumer product in Holland, you have cut your target market by at least half if you don’t provide information in Dutch, quite apart from any legal requirements.

 

6) What has been your biggest exporting / importing challenge?

 

Our biggest challenge in exporting is to be able to compete directly with local translation agencies. In the US for example, clients normally choose us either for our areas of specialism, or because we are UK based, the rationale here being that we can provide a better service for European languages than a US competitor. We recognise that to further break into the US market, we will need to have a physical presence in the country. Inevitably many people like to buy local. This can be a bit strange in our industry, as we rarely see clients in person.

 

7) What’s the most helpful piece of international trade advice you have received?

 

Before mentioning the most helpful, I feel I should mention the least. We’ve had experience of people playing down the impact of culture and language on international trade, even a country like the US with a shared language, has big cultural differences, and a very different business culture, ignore its impact at your peril!

 

One of the best pieces of practical advice, as a small exporter, has been to maintain bank accounts in different currencies, we pay translators regularly in USD and Euros, and in other currencies in lesser quantities. When we are paid by clients in USD or Euros, we therefore try to keep the money in currency to pay suppliers. This is the closest we can currently get to hedging, but it definitely makes us a bit less vulnerable to exchange rate variations.

 

8) What does the future hold? Any particular markets you are looking to target next?

 

Like many businesses we held our breath a bit at the beginning of the recession, wondering what would happen next. We grew 32.7% last year, so no recession so far in the translation industry! One of our challenges is to diversify further the services we offer, we have had a lot of success in translation for retail, and would like to win more retail clients. In terms of target markets, I have already mentioned the US. Another market we are interested to have a physical presence in is Belgium. We already have a successful French and Flemish version of our website www.betterlanguages.be with in-country hosting in Belgium. To really get the most out of it however we feel we need to have an office in Brussels. This would also enable us to target organisations based around the EU. We are currently thinking about how best to proceed, whether to look for a local partner as a joint venture, or to set up ourselves. Watch this space!

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