When and how to use interpreters: advice for exporters


Paul Mason, Managing Director of Cicero Translations, which provides translation and interpreting services to British exporters, offers this advice based on more than 35 years’ experience about the use of interpreters.

Suppose you are new to exporting or you are considering an approach to a new market. When might you need the services of an interpreter?  How do you find a good one, and what should you do to make sure you get the best from them?

Why have an interpreter?

It is a common misconception among British exporters that everyone basically speaks English (well, don’t they?). The fact is they don’t, so if you are looking for vigorous and capable agents, distributors or partners to sell your services or products, do not make the mistake of going with someone just because they speak good English. They may seem plausible, but lack the contacts and knowledge which are vital for successful long-term market penetration.

Your ideal agent, distributor or partner may be someone whom you would never unearth without a good interpreter. So for those visits to new markets prospecting for clients, agents and distributors – perhaps by attending a trade fair or perhaps via a succession of meetings set up for you by DIT – do engage the services of an interpreter.

How to find a good interpreter

A good interpreter can make all the difference between success and failure in tackling a new market, so it is well worthwhile thinking through the qualifications you are looking for.

Let’s take an example. Suppose you are a producer of high quality stethoscopes which make use of an innovative digital enhancement technology to produce an exceptionally clear auditory signal. You believe Turkey is a promising market for your products. Ideally your interpreter will:

  • Have a sufficient knowledge of electronics and sound engineering to be able to understand how your product works
  • Know the relevant related vocabulary in both English and Turkish
  • Have worked in the Turkish health sector and know how purchasing decisions are made
  • Have sufficient medical knowledge, again in both languages, to understand all the uses of stethoscopes and how the enhanced sound quality might benefit the user
  • Have a good general knowledge of business – quoting, presenting, negotiating, payment terms, ordering, packaging, labelling, transport and insurance – to be able to help you conclude a deal
  • Be personable, presentable, punctual, reliable and conscientious.

It is unlikely you already know of such a person. You might have a Turkish friend whose daughter is studying at a British university, speaks passable English and is looking for a holiday job. But do not go with her just because she seems an easy option. Engage a professional.

Go to a reputable translations and interpreting company, explain your requirements (see above bulleted list) in detail and be prepared to pay several hundred pounds a day. When you start shipping your tenth consignment of 100 stethoscopes to Istanbul you will see that it was the best investment you ever made.

And please, don’t leave it to the last minute. Good interpreters are in great demand. If you want one of the best, start early – preferably at least a month before your trip.

How to get the best from your interpreter

Treat them as highly skilled professionals (which they are) and brief them as fully as possible. They will respond by taking a real interest in your products or services and helping you to promote them in their language with as much conviction as you would in English. Treat them as valuable partners and that is exactly what they will be.

Paul Mason is the managing director of Cicero Translations, a UK-based translation company that has been helping SMEs, large companies and multinationals to conduct business globally since 1980. He has travelled all over the world marketing his company’s educational services directly to end-user clients and indirectly via agents and in-country partners. He is also the former chairman of the Kent & Sussex Exporters Association.

Topics: Export Planning, Localisation, Management, Market Research, Operations, Promotion, and Sales & Marketing
Export Action Plan