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Italy’s Awful English Costs Italian Businesses Billions in Sales

Italy, alas, doesn’t seem to realise that its awful English, especially in this internet day and age, is losing the nation many potentially valuable sales and deters investment too. The translations used by Italian websites tend to range from good to not so good.

Not so good is bad for business, but alas, it’s a little too common in Italy.

The other day, someone sent me a link to an official Italian website – one that is supposed to be developing business for Italy. This someone, who, like the site, shall remain nameless, visited the site, found the English was terrible and beat a hasty retreat. How many others had done the same?

When I visited the website I understood the problem immediately. The texts were virtually impossible to understand and it was patently obvious they had not been checked by someone who knew English very well or they had been written by an Italian who didn’t know English well enough to write in the language. Direct, unchecked, use of Google Translator may have been to blame too. The writer responsible possessed zero copywriting skills. It was very hard to understand just what the site was offering.

Visitors to the site in question may have thought it was a scam – that’s what people often think when they come across poorly written texts on websites. Such people run away, fast.

I did attempt to draw attention to the negative effect the awful English was likely to have on business for Italy and offer to sort it out – for a fee – but to no avail.

Firstly, there was no budget. Secondly, the attitude was, well, it was written by an Italian, so you can’t expect decent English, now can you?  This somewhat strange attitude is remarkably widespread in Italy and it’s not really changing.

The Italian Attitude

Provided texts are written using English words, or almost English words, many, though not all, Italian business owners tend to think they will do. They are wrong though.

Terrible texts create a terrible impression. In instances when website visitors do not realise the website belongs to an Italian company, visitors will go elsewhere, fast. Companies may well be losing out on millions of Euros of business simply because nobody thought to call in a native speaker to check website’s texts. Good English, or another language, can give businesses an edge over their competition.

Even worse is the fact that badly written texts are often associated with fraudulent business operations – great for a company’s reputation and brand image!

Good English, Good Impression

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This is what the UK’s Publishers Training Centre has to say about the importance of good grammar for businesses:

Grammar at Work

Your command of language speaks volumes about you. Whether you are preparing a proposal for a major new contract, writing a letter to a client, or even making a sales call, a good grasp of grammar is vital for presenting yourself and your organisation professionally.

Perhaps someone might like to translate that into Italian? The same applies to any language, not just English.

Native Speakers Not Enough

In many instances calling in a native speaker may not be enough though. What is often needed is a kind of hybrid translator, editor and copywriter, preferably someone who knows about search engine optimisation. For sales texts, and this often means texts on websites, translation is not enough. The texts also need to read well – hence the copywriting skills. Translation skills are called for because it is necessary to check the original Italian texts upon which the final English language texts are to be based. Sometimes, translations are so poor, editors cannot understand them well enough to know what they are trying to say. Hence the need to understand Italian. Search engine optimisation is a necessity, otherwise, no matter how good those articles are, few potential customers using Google and other search engines will ever find the website upon which they reside.

The trouble is Italy’s businesses, and possibly businesses in other nations, regard translation as a minor issue – which is why many translators end up being called in at the very last minute. Not only does this up costs, it also potentially lowers quality. Making matters worse is that little or no budget is allocated to translation work. If Italians can get away with paying €5 for 500 words, they will, but what they don’t understand is that a €5 translation may cost them many thousands, if not millions, in lost business.

Put it like this

Italian companies: Would you present Italian customers with sales texts in Italian full of grammatical errors? Of course you wouldn’t, at least I hope you don’t.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot too. Businesses targeting Italy, or any other nation for that matter, need to ensure their texts have been translated accurately. Just because you have an Italian who works in your lab does not mean he or she knows Italian, or Russian, or Chinese, well enough to be able to judge whether written copy is up to scratch.

If Italians are finding texts which have been written in awful Italian, then they should speak up about this too.

How can this issue be resolved?

Quite easily. Here are some tips for businesses targeting other nations:

  • Never leave translating until the last minute.
  • Consider involving a copywriter if the purpose of the text is to generate sales.
  • Research translation rates – don’t pay the lowest rate out there or you risk ending up with very poor quality work. If someone is prepared to work for less than €0.12 a word, expect poor quality work and forget about copywriting! Then again, a high price does not always guarantee quality.
  • Ensure the translator knows your company’s business. Not all translators know automotive industry terminology, but some do.
  • Have translations checked by people who really know the language – an English or American journalist, Denise, or myself, or, for example. However, if you choose the right translator from the start – someone who also knows about copywriting – the texts won’t need checking. Not all translators are copywriters.

Note that copywriting is a profession in itself. For a really thorough and effective job, you should consider having texts translated and then passed to a copywriter. Yes, the cost will be much higher, but the results in terms of business development will be much greater too.

  • For texts which will appear on the web, pay extra for search engine optimisation – do this and the cost of translating, and SEO work, will be covered in no time.
  • Spend a little less on entertaining so you have a budget for translating. Indeed, build translating, and copywriting, into your business’ annual marketing budget.

Is the claim in the title of this article outrageous. Probably not. Read this, it’s in English: Italians’ bad English ‘deters foreign business’ and investment.

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