Sara Knowles, Language and Culture Adviser, UKTI North West

Member Article

Mind your language and culture

Language and culture are cited as potential barriers to selling in new markets. The good news is that through UKTI companies can access support to help companies overcome many of the cultural and linguistic challenges presented when doing business internationally. Sara Knowles is Language and Culture Adviser for the North West and shares some of her advice for preparing to work in new markets.

A little language goes a long way

Investing time in learning about the language and culture of your target markets can positively affect your success when trading internationally. In some scenarios it can literally make or break a business relationship or deal. Language and culture are inextricably linked and learning a few basic phrases and doing your research into culture shows that you have taken time to invest in the relationship. Having a deeper understanding of the culture of the people you will be doing business with is also rewarding for you, and will help your export business to run more smoothly.

Did you know?

Fewer than 7% of the world’s population speaks English as their first language.

Every communication touch point you have in business – be it online, by telephone, email or face-to-face creates an impression about your brand, and it’s well worth considering how your brand will come across in international markets. Market research is a key stage of the export strategy process and while key elements such as competitor analysis and demographics are invariably addressed, language and culture can often be overlooked. Even in markets that ‘speak English’ such as US, Canada and Australia, there are considerable variations in the vocabularies used and nuances in cultural norms that need to be taken into account.

Did you know?

There are over 4,000 words in USA English that are different to those used in Standard British English


Do your research – find out as much as you can about the culture of the country you wish to work in. Pay attention to the factors that affect culture: history, geography, the economy, religion and politics. Identify how people buy and sell their products and services and their style, taste and quality preferences. Russia, for example, has a strong tradition of literature, music and ballet - Russian people are generally very knowledgeable about these subjects and will appreciate it if you know a little about them too. Don’t assume that what sells well in the UK will sell in new markets. You may have to adapt your products or services to suit the preferences of your buyers and carefully plan your routes to market and identify the most appropriate e-commerce platforms, agents, distributors and partners.

Did you know?

The number 4 in China and Japan is considered to be unlucky – items packaged in sets of 4 or branded with the number 4 are unlikely to sell well.

Be aware of the importance of relationship building and how you should go about this. Don’t underestimate the amount of time this may require in certain cultures and the importance of participating in hospitality. An invitation from your host to a restaurant may bring some challenges but must be accepted. Prepare for some potentially ‘unusual’ food , dining conventions and plenty of alcohol in some countries and have a strategy for how you are going to tackle this.

Meeting styles and negotiation vary from country to country so you’ll need to prepare for this. In some places it is not uncommon for meetings to be frequently disrupted and mobile phones to be answered in the middle of the meeting. In the US, discussion and negotiation might be reasonably straight to the point , whereas in Japan the meeting is a forum to deliver what has already been decided behind the scenes.

Ensure your website is optimised for international markets with professionally-translated and localised language pages. Key words, meta data and language tags will all need attention to optimise your chances of being found by non-UK search engines.

Where can I find out more?

Tap into language and culture support from UKTI. For example

Access expert guidance from an International Trade Adviser Obtain assistance with language services Participate in training courses in many aspects of export including language and culture, export strategy, exhibition skills, protecting your intellectual property and international website optimisation.

For further information contact:

Sara Knowles, Language & Culture Adviser UK Trade & Investment North West

T:+ 0333 320 0392

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Sara Knowles .

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