One in four people worldwide understand English at a useful level.
Three out of four don’t.
Let me introduce my cousin Tina. She’s a primary school teacher living and working in Bielefeld. Naturally enough, German is her first language. Fortunately for her monoglot British relatives though, Tina is one of the 1.75 billion people worldwide who use English very effectively as a second language. While my German was not so much taught as inflicted by teachers drilling grammar by rote, Tina had fun singing along to the Rolling Stones and watching American films. No prizes for guessing that when we get together I’m doing the usual British thing, squirming with embarrassment because I can’t switch between languages as she does.
Skilled as she is in English, though, there’s a limit to Tina’s patience, vocabulary and conversational comfort zone. She would not be impressed by the sales director I met recently at a trade show and who declared unequivocally, “English is the international language of business. Why should I communicate in anything else?”
The short answer is that most of your customers aren’t in business, and whatever they are doing, they most probably aren’t doing it in English. Just like Tina when I’m not visiting, your customers are getting on with their own lives – in their own language. Tina’s got two children and elderly parents to care for. Like all customers everywhere, she’s got a life, and she lives it in her mother tongue.
So while Tina is happy chatting with me in an English punctuated with a little German and some sign-language over lunch in a Bielefeld bistro, when it comes to spending her hard-earned cash, she, quite reasonably, prefers to weigh up the pros and cons of features, benefits, price, quality and delivery options in her own language, thank you very much.
Six more reasons sticking with English will lose you export sales.
Or – why my cousin Tina – who could be your next customer – prefers to buy in her own language.
- “Yes, I can speak English, but I make decisions in German.”
- “If you speak to me in up-to-date, everyday German, I’m much more likely to take on board and remember your marketing messages.”
- “My family like British brands, but our lifestyles are different. Show me how your product fits in my day-to-day routine here in my home, not yours.“
- “You want to me to spend money with you. Show me you care about me.”
- “I’m much more likely to trust your promises about customer service and product support if you’ve taken the time and trouble to translate them for me.”
- “I’m a busy person. The bottom line is, if you speak my language, you’re making it so much easier for me to do business with you.”
Wenn Sie mich verstehen, dann werden wir uns gut verstehen!
Guest blogger Kaye Coleman-Rooney runs marketing communications agency, Doing Words . She’s a member of Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce Communications sector and is a coach with Accelerate Cambridge, part of the Cambridge Judge Business School.