Thinking Global from the Beginning

11 10 2016


European “Eunicorns” have a globalization advantage: out of necessity, they globalize much earlier than successful North American startup companies. Markets in France, Spain, Sweden and other European countries are so much smaller than the English-speaking block, that entrepreneurs think beyond their own borders from day one. Then, when expansion to new markets is the best next step, their mindsets are flexible, translation resources in place, and geographical scalability already prepared for.

But why should a start-up in North America, the UK or Australia think beyond the enormous English-speaking market until much further down the road? For one thing, two-thirds of their customers lie outside that market, by some estimates. And since investors like to see long-term thinking, the question of where a company will be selling in five or ten years is immediately relevant.

An additional advantage is that some potential markets are also less competitive than those an English-speaking company may be most accustomed to selling to, because of fewer similar products. As an example, Arabic markets are often neglected by English-speaking companies, and yet they account for nearly 5% of the world’s internet users*. An early move to localize for such a market could be strategically brilliant.

Thinking globally before you “have to” could save not only money, but protect you from failed efforts and wasted time when you do start to move in that direction. If from the start you are planning with a global market in mind, you will use concepts, logos, and branding, that are simple and direct, and therefore easy to localize. Knowing and working from the essence of what your product offers your customers, you can choose keywords and phrases that don’t have to be abandoned later because they are only relevant to, for instance, an American audience.

Another important localization piece that can be provided for early on: any software you use should be able to support international character sets (Unicode), with user-visible text and images separate from executable code, and a capacity for text expansion.

For an American or UK start-up with limited localization resources, one safe, lower budget way to initiate global readiness could be to localize from American to UK English (or vice versa). Of course the languages are so close as to be interchangeable, to a large extent. It is easy to find UK variations that are accepted and understood by Americans, or Australian phrasing that does not deter purchases by UK buyers.

But the differences that do exist – spelling, phrasing, humor, cultural references — can be addressed and resolved. An internal structure for doing so can be developed within your company, including the development of a working relationship with a strong LSP such as Skrivanek. Then the interface for more complex localization will be in place, the process practiced and the glitches worked out.

J. McShulskis



International Marketing Translation: the Pitfalls and Possibilities

30 01 2015

If Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken can make expensive, comical international marketing mistakes, with all of the marketing translation these giant corporations have done over decades, then it’s clearly easy. Endless possibilities for mis-communication exist, ranging from inaccurate word choices to the inappropriateness sometimes of saying anything at all.

An example of the latter is when Coca Cola once stamped the bottoms of Coke bottles in some countries with the advice “OPEN OTHER END”.
International Marketing TranslationAn early translation lesson is that colloquialisms and slang must be handled skillfully. Clairol’s curling iron called “Mist Stick” was introduced to the German market without translating or changing the name, not taking into account that “mist” is slang for manure in German. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened in China in the 1980s with their traditional slangy slogan “Finger-lickin’ good”, which translates to a catchy “Eat your fingers off” in Chinese.

Different sentence structure in a target language can also turn a phrase the wrong way. Pepsi translated its slogan, “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” into Arabic in such a way that its new marketing translation promised, “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

Even when you think you’re avoiding one trap, you might walk right into a different one. A prominent drug company used pictures rather than phrases for a product they marketed in the United Arab Emirates, specifically in order to avoid language errors. The first picture showed a sick face, the second a person taking the medication, and the third showed a healthy face. But Arab readers read from right to left.

These stories are funny to read about, but not the least bit entertaining to be part of. The answer to the puzzle that is international marketing translation begins not with guessing, hoping, and winging it with Google translate or untrained speakers of the target language, but with professional marketing translators who have lengthy experience providing in-depth, native resources in every country in which you want to introduce your product.

As you work with such a language service provider, keep in mind the following key points for the practice of marketing translations that bring to life exactly what you want to sell.

Make a thorough and intelligent analysis ahead of time of your communication desires, before any of the marketing translation work begins. Many changes may be required, and it’s possible that significant portions of your existing texts and layouts will not be usable.

Think of the process this way: your marketing translation must be generated from your core product concepts and the preferences of your target audience, not from your source-language marketing materials.

In addition to content changes, there are physical and practical considerations such as the way a language moves, the space it requires, the types of symbols, calendars, clocks, and programming codes needed. Pay close attention to all details so that none of them are overlooked – even tiny missteps harm your credibility.

You will want to seek and rely on marketing translation experts with intimate knowledge of your audience and the precise region you are targeting; be wary of superficial or secondhand information, clichés, and erroneous preconceptions. It is not wise to avoid this research by simply generalizing: if your resulting marketing translations are too “global” then they may just be too bland and vague to allow anyone to identify with them.

Be prepared: international marketing translation is tricky and time-consuming, requiring more resources and higher levels of talent and experience than most translation jobs.

A good place to start would be to contact an experienced LSP possessing a global network, such as Skrivanek, for a marketing translation consultation.

  J. McShulskis

A Hidden International Language

25 11 2014

Into the universal realm of the Unicode, the symbols for a weightlifter, a spiderweb and the Mona Lisa have now been accepted. These are three of the more than 250 emoji considered significant enough that their computer encoding is being officially standardized for use by Apple, Google, Microsoft and others.

new_emojisThese three join hundreds of emoji facial expressions, hand gestures, food items, weather and plant elements, on and on, used to replace or augment words.The non-profit Unicode Consortium regulates embedded computer code for every character in every living language, and is “the foundation for all modern software” according to their official website ( Begun by Xerox and Apple leaders in 1987 as an “international/multilingual text character encoding system,” today Unicode sets officially recognized computer code standards in coordination with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Changing the standardized code for any symbol – even if that code accidentally includes a misspelling – is not possible once it is in use, because stability of past programming with present and future programming is Unicode’s fundamental reason for existence. However, adding symbols is an ongoing process: ancient scripts for example, or new currency symbols, and the ever-increasing number of popular emoji.

The formal petitioning process for the acceptance of new symbols is lengthy and complex. The first criterion is that new characters must be in widespread use as textual elements (for a glimpse of the most-used emoji, check out a real time tally of their Twitter use at When that is established, petitioners are asked to engage in discussion via Unicode forums and email exchanges to refine (or eliminate) their proposals.

Such discussions may well include cultural, political, and social concerns (see for example, “What about diversity?” at under FAQ), involving issues like the color of your symbol or its origins. One Unicode emoji petition argued: “Of the more than 800 emojis, the only two resembling people of color are a guy who looks vaguely Asian and another in a turban. There’s a white boy, girl, man, woman, elderly man, elderly woman, blond boy, blonde girl, and, we’re pretty sure, Princess Peach. But when it comes to faces outside of yellow smileys, there’s a staggering lack of minority representation.”

Juxtaposition of computer code standardization with a conversation including yellow smiley faces in a tally of racially diverse symbols seems impossibly odd. But this is, after all, the formative stage of a sort of international language, and human beings are incurably attached to the significance of their symbols.

The Unicode 7.0.0 symbols added this year and 8.0.0 symbols in the process of adaptation are described and listed at
What do they mean to Americans? What do they mean to Swedes or Peruvians? How is the use of such symbols changing our conversations?


 J. McShulskis


Transcreation or Simple Translation?

21 11 2014

As you expand globally, the question you face is how to establish a customer base that truly understands your message and desires and identifies with your product. The simple translation of your original texts could save time and money in the short-run, but lead to greater expense and even damage control in the long-run, if the direct translation fails.

Skrivanek_globeConsidering all of the nuances that define individual languages, cultures, and product readiness, transcreation is often the only profitable option. What is the difference? Transcreation is a recreation of the original materials in a form that affects the customer in the same way that the source texts affect the original audience. This can result in creative, entirely new messaging that involves changes in the tenor and appearance of everything from your slogans and advertising copy to your product name. Translation more simply adapts your text for the basic verbal understanding of a foreign audience.

But why not utilize copywriters in the target country to read the originals and reproduce the text from scratch in their native tongue? This is an option, but it should be remembered that a nuanced comprehension of your original message must also be employed in order for the new copy to be accurate in all ways. The process of transcreation includes providing a creative brief to specialists, delineating all concepts, as well as feelings, that you hope to convey.

High quality transcreation basically creates a “familiar” passageway into the world of your products, using layouts, colors, colloquialisms, video, music and even purchasing methods that your potential clients in different nations will trust. While the populations of many countries may have some exposure to English and understand it to be the current lingua franca, nevertheless the art of persuading someone to buy your product is complex, orchestrating deeply personal preferences and comfort elements. You can begin to imagine the gap by going online to buy shoes from a Chinese website, for instance, or lamps from an Indian manufacturer – what elements (or missing elements) send you rushing back to Amazon and Shopzilla?

With a booming growth in global advertising, the question of transcreation versus translation can’t reasonably be ignored. A quarter of companies translate into 15 or more languages, and some companies translate into as many as 60 languages. Facebook has adapted its service to the languages of a stunning 90% of the world’s population and 95 percent of people with access to the internet.* The global race for customers is in high gear, and the more sophisticated your tools, the greater likelihood you will win.

 J. McShulskis

*statistics from Nataly Kelly’s, As the Internet Becomes More Global, Language Matters More than Ever, Huffington Post, June 2014


Apple’s ‘Swift Language’ and the Global Marketplace

12 09 2014

In the dynamic currents of globalization, new products influence the market’s demands, and market demand influences product development. A case in point at the most fundamental level, is Apple’s newly introduced programming language, Swift, and companion Xcode6 mobile app building toolkit.

swift-heroSwift’s introduction in June of this year has been met with appreciation by iOS app developers, because Objective-C, the language it will replace, is said to be difficult to learn and to work with. More iOS apps, improved apps, and apps for new markets seem an almost certain result of Swift, with stimulus to related localization and translation.

The following internationalization improvements are a few of the Swift/Xcode6 features prompted by feedback from the global marketplace:

~ New localizations: Hindi, Indian English, Canadian French, and Hong Kong Chinese
~ New keyboards: Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Indian English, Filipino, and Slovenian
~ Lunar calendar support, in addition to Gregorian
~ More complex time interval formatters

Inevitably, such elements affect your access to foreign customers using iOS, as well as your localization and translation choices in those markets.

Hundreds of thousands of apps have been developed for both iOS and Android mobile devices. However in 2012, Apple iOS lost its market advantage globally to Google’s Android, in part because Android is not bound to a single device, and Apple devices are usually more expensive, explaining iOS popularity in 38 countries that are more developed. Swift and Xcode6 seem in part a bid to secure and expand Apple’s market share.

For a world map of operating system preferences, country by country, go to International Business Times:

J. McShulskis

Localization: Targeting Africa

22 08 2014

Consumer goods markets in African countries are rapidly expanding due to numerous factors: population growth and urbanization, emergence of a middle class and shrinking poverty levels, youthful demography, vast natural resources and inward investment, improved business and trade environment, and expanded use of technology. For exporters to Africa, the good news is strong, but challenges remain from such issues as segmented markets, cheap local competition, flawed distribution channels, and untrained workers.*

African Languages

Projected 2020 consumer spending** predicts the highest growth in South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Angola and Senegal. But when looking for your next target market, the viability of your efforts is a complex issue. In the World Bank’s 2014 “ease of doing business” index, for instance, the only countries included in that top ten from the top nine projected consumer markets listed above are Ghana and Zambia (see below).

Localization for Africa may be tricky, but pay off in the long-run. While English and French are common throughout the continent, the range of consumer languages is vast, as you can see in the AllAfrica’s “ease of doing business” list below.*** This list, drawn from World Bank analyses, is based on the overall effect of each country’s government regulations on doing business there.

1. Mauritius  (19th of 189 globally)
No official language. French and English spoken, Creole as mother tongue.

2. Rwanda  (32nd)
Official languages: French, English, Kinyardwanda (which is the most widely spoken and is the language of government). English used in schools. Swahili spoken by many.

3. South Africa  (41st)
Eleven official languages. Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa most widely spoken, with English used in commerce and science.

4. Tunisia  (51st)
Official language: Arabic. Used in daily life: Tunisian Arabic of Derja. French often used in press, business and education.

5. Botswana  (56th)
Official language: English. Many speak Setswana. Afrikaans and three other languages also spoken there.

6. Ghana  (67th)
English is official language, spoken by 90%. Also Akan and Twi by 75%, with Niger-Congo languages also spoken.

7. Seychelles  (80th)
Official: English, French and Seychellois Creole (based on French).

8. Zambia  (83rd)
Official language: English. Seventy-three different languages in the country, but Nyanja is the main one.

9. Morocco  (87th)
Official languages: Berber and Arabic (with dialects called Darija). French often used for governmental and international matters.

10. Namibia  (98th)
Official language: English. Half of population speaks Oshiwambo as first language, but the most understood language is Afrikaans, with other minority languages.

J. McShulskis

*African Development Bank Group,
**Euromonitor Africa Consumer Spending,
*** from World Bank data:

Going Global in London!

3 07 2014

In the month that Skrivanek prepared to open a new office in Sao Paolo (Brazil) giving it a presence on four continents it was perhaps fitting that the company was represented at Going Global, part of The Business Show 2014 “Europe’s Biggest Business Event” which took place 15th and 16th May at the prestigious ExCel, London.

Over 350 exhibitors and thousands of visitors gathered at the spectacular Thames side venue for 250 seminars, 170 workshops and two days of intensive networking. A major reason for Skrivanek’s participation was the chance to meet the widest range of potential clients possible and that certainly was the case with a wide variety of companies represented from small start-ups to major multinational corporations.

Key Account Manager Joe Atkinson of Skrivanek GroupHighlights included speed networking sessions and a giant information exchange wall as well as a full programme of seminars and workshops to suit all tastes. Thursday drinks reception held in beautiful late afternoon sunshine on the Excel’s riverside terrace was also an excellent opportunity for informal networking with the famous skyline of the City of London reminding everyone of the main reason for being there… business!

On Friday An Stuyven, Skrivanek’s Global Marketing and Sales Manager gave a presentation as part of GALA’s contribution to the event. An spoke on the very pertinent theme of “Translation Tips for Going Global” and her insight into the translation process combined with practical advice designed to save would be exporters’ time, money and stress was much appreciated by the audience.

An Stuyven_Global Marketing & Sales Manager SkrivanekBy the end of the event on Friday afternoon the Skrivanek team had spoken to a large number of fellow attendees representing private medical clinics, patent and IP lawyers, relocation experts, website designers, a host of IT companies with specialised products, Business Development specialists and many others. As the name of the event suggests a lot of these companies will be Going Global in the near future and with the contacts made in London Skrivanek will be there to assist them.

Joe Atkinson