Language skills – the key to maximising international trade opportunities. By Geoffrey Bowden

In the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, questions are already being asked about the impact not just for the UK, but for their key European trading partners too. As yet, many of the answers remain unknown and as we enter what will inevitably be a period of significant change for the industry, we discuss the role, which language services can play in supporting this vital sector.

The short-term post referendum picture appears to be one of opposing fortunes for the European manufacturing sector, with the fluctuation in exchange rates impacting on export levels from both within and outside the UK. Indeed, while a falling Pound may start to make British manufactured goods look more competitive, the reverse could be said for the products of manufacturers from other European countries who have to date exported high quantities to the UK. Downward forecasts are already being made on exports to the UK from bodies such as the German DIHK Chamber of Commerce and Industry for example.

Longer term, the impact of potential tariffs alongside predictions that a Brexit may result in regulatory divergence, thus increasing trade costs and damaging bilateral trade volumes, have been widely discussed for many months. Despite this, the result of the EU referendum was still largely unexpected and shockwaves are continuing to be felt across Europe, with the uncertain future of European exports remaining a hot topic.

This uncertainty only compounds the already high pressure on the European GDP, to become more competitive to help restore economic growth across Europe. The challenge then is for the European manufacturing sector to wrestle back control of its own destiny and take proactive steps to ensure its future success. Effective use of language services will form a key component in answering that challenge and the importance of accessing the appropriate foreign language skills for targeting overseas markets should not be underestimated.

Language is vital for effective communication with international trading partners and if used effectively can positively influence export performance, with recent research indicating that poor language skills are costing the UK economy alone £48 billion a year in lost export sales* and conversely, organisations which have made the conscious decision to invest in language services achieve a far higher export to turnover ratio**.

But it isn’t simply about translating materials into the native language of existing and prospective clients, it’s a much more powerful tool which enables manufacturing companies to build positive long-term relationships, understand cultural differences, adapt how they do business and market their products effectively to suit local markets. In the words of the legendary Nelson Mandela: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

It was therefore concerning in a recent survey*** of Europe’s Language Service Providers (LSPs) that while there were overriding predictions for growth across the sector during 2016, these were at a much lower level than in 2015 and in some countries, such as Italy, there were even predictions of contraction in the industry.

Rather than viewing language services as a cost and perceiving the language barrier as too large to overcome, manufacturing organisations regardless of size and location need to sit up and recognise the role which Language Service Providers (LSPs) can play in supporting them to become effective exporters. They wouldn’t, for example, hesitate to invest in other professional services, such as legal and financial, and it is important that the value of language services be viewed on equal terms.

Indeed, accurate translations, in which all colloquialisms and cultural references are correct, can add great value to a business, helping them communicate effectively in diverse markets and therefore expand their opportunities for international trade. This is key not only for the traditional and well established manufacturing markets of Western Europe but also for the rapidly emerging and fastest growing markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Plus, with manufacturers increasingly selling services in addition to manufactured products; the ability to communicate effectively with customers across multiple territories appears more crucial than ever.

However, it is only by accessing the right services from the right professional language company that this opportunity can be fully maximised and unfortunately many organisations are still failing to take into account the need to plan ahead for their translation requirements, with few knowing what to expect when trying to source translations from an external provider.

To help manufacturing organisations maximise their international trading potential, a Guide to Buying Language services has therefore been made available by the Association of Translation Companies for all European manufacturers to download ( Designed to help any company investing in translation services, potentially for the first time, to get the very best results for their money, the guide provides advice on everything from how to select an LSP to the different services available, best practice when it comes to briefing a translation company, the pros and cons of digital translation and even some language industry jargon, of which clients should be aware.

In focus:
Clear Communication 2One European manufacturer that is already reaping the benefits of accessing professional language services is Proto Labs. Founded in 1999, Proto Labs has grown into a global manufacturer with production facilities in the United States, Europe and Japan. Over the past decade it has commissioned the services of LSP, Alexika, a member of the UK’s Association of Translation Companies, which has delivered translations for key trading markets including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain and more recently Sweden and Finland.

With the rapid growth in its 3D printing, Computer Numerical Control machining and injection moulding services providing an unprecedented speed-to-market for Proto Labs customers, it sought the support of an LSP which could deliver a flexible, accurate and efficient service.

Ashlea Babb, Marketing Project Co-ordinator Europe explains: “It is important for us as a global manufacturer with an international customer base to provide appropriate levels of support. One part of this is language service support. Alexika translates content including print, technical and digital marketing materials, successfully helping to promote our services to customers in different European territories.

“We evaluated the services of Alexika with those of other providers, both within the UK and Europe and chose to retain their services over the last ten years. We have a primary tier of translation experts who understand our business, the pressures that we face and the need for accuracy in the technical market place in which we operate.

“Our key objective was to find an agency willing to become a long term partner, committed to learning our business and evolving to meet its needs. To date Alexika has delivered on all these objectives, continuing to offer excellent service levels and we value the support which they provide.”

Geoffrey Bowden
Geoffrey Bowden


Geoffrey Bowden is General Secretary of Britain’s Association of Translation Companies (ATC). ATC is the world’s longest established professional association representing the interests of Language Service Providers. It is the leading voice for companies operating in the UK’s expanding language services industry, which is worth more than £1 billion and employs more than 12,000 people.


* Department of Business, Innovation and Skills
** Volume 62, Issue 4 of the Scottish Journal of Political Economics, autumn 2015
*** Joint survey conducted by the European Union of Associations of Translation Companies (EUATC), the Globalization and Localization Association (GALA), the European Commission and the European Language Industry Association (ELIA).