Don’t let language be a barrier to entering new markets — or should you?
Amex’s Open Forum recently posted this tweet about entering new markets:
The shortened link points to their article Language Lessons: Tips for Accessing Emerging Markets.
In the article, the writers point out that approximately half the world’s population communicates using just 10 languages—but what do you do if you need to reach a market that doesn’t speak one of them?
As one solution, the article promotes SCOLA, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting businesses and schools to the world’s most obscure dialects. One of the ways SCOLA works is providing resources for learning a new language.
This, however, raised my concerns about the efficiency of that method:
Some languages are more difficult to learn—plan accordingly. Finnish, Korean, Japanese and Mandarin are among the world’s most difficult languages to tackle, especially for native English speakers. Adjust your expectations.
Decker [SCOLA Program Contracts Manager Dave Decker] says simply finding a local resource or friend—or a native speaker who can communicate with you remotely via Skype—can provide the one-on-one experience that can shrink the time it takes to learn a difficult language by 10 to 15 percent.
This is dangerous advice.
You don’t want to be a joke
While learning a new language may work if the language is relatively easy for English-speakers, you should never assume you can learn an exotic foreign language at a level that allows entering new markets speaking it by yourself.
For example, Finnish, topping the above list of the world’s most difficult languages to tackle, is widely spoken in Estonia. Estonian and Finnish are two very closely related Fenno-Ugric languages. Yet, Estonians who “know” Finnish simply cannot produce Finnish that would be acceptable for marketing purposes in Finland.
I have seen innumerable home-made translations into Finnish by Estonians, and without exception, they miss the mark. You can’t quite say they’re wrong, but unfortunate word choices, strange syntax and non-native inflection most often make the text unintentionally humorous.
If you’re entering new markets, you don’t want to come across as a joke.
Always use professional marketing help
Based on what I’ve seen, it takes anything from 3 to 15 years to learn spoken Finnish at a level where people start to take you seriously instead of a quaint, heavily accented foreigner. Finns will be very positive toward you because of your effort, but take my word for it, your skills won’t go far in written marketing.
While learning a new language is definitely helpful in understanding the market, if you want to communicate with that market, you should always use professional, native help.