Excellence Is The Goal

Excellence Is The Goal

Ten years ago the world looked on in dismay as north-eastern Japan was devastated by natural disaster. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami followed by nuclear crisis at Fukushima threatened the country’s industrial capacity, its economic status and the safety of millions of its people. In the years that followed, the Japanese people’s resilience and character came to the country’s rescue, and the decision to award the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo lent polish to its steady recovery. The International Olympic Committee approved Tokyo as a safe, economically viable host with a vision for a successful event. Coronavirus has cast a shadow over these Games, but at today’s opening ceremony Japan will surely feel the goodwill of the wider world.  

As the world’s third largest economy and a global research and development champion, Japan’s importance as a trade partner can’t be underestimated. Those trading with this country, in fields as diverse as advanced manufacturing and food and beverages, will benefit from its solid reputation as a producer of quality goods. And they will also find that the surest way to build a bridge to a new partner is to speak to them in a language they not only understand but feel most comfortable with. In Japan this is particularly relevant. Fluent English speakers are few and far between, and the country ranks only 53rd in the world in terms of English language proficiency.

Reaching out to new markets involves unpicking the locks of language and culture. Every accent and nuance shapes the message and either enhances the brand or diminishes it. Where a professional translation process will deliver persuasive nuanced results, an unprofessional one will not only fail to open the door but may add enough bolts and padlocks to keep it closed forever.

Some of the world’s most recognizable brands have tried and failed to penetrate the Japanese market. In recent years, Carrefour, Tesco and Walmart have sunk vast sums of money into this territory and each in turn has admitted defeat. Walmart sold its majority stake in Japanese supermarket chain Seiyu last Autumn after failing to win over consumers who are discerning and distinct from one another in their buying preferences. Simply repeating a message about low prices made no headway with consumers who prioritised a combination of the freshest food and the most attentive service, and remained loyal to domestic retailers who delivered precisely that. The challenge for brands entering the Japanese market is similar to the challenge for those entering Olympic competition over the coming weeks.

How can we set ourselves apart from the competition?

Japanese consumers have large numbers of highly competitive home-grown service providers to choose from. New entrants need to offer value that no one else offers, and they need to convey that message and their unique selling points clearly and persuasively.

That’s easier said than done when linguistic traps are widespread. While Japan itself is preparing for an exciting future, the Japanese language has no future tense. The present tense is used to describe future action, and when people speak of watching a TV programme or walking a dog they could be referring to the activity of the moment, something they do each day or something they plan for an unspecified point in the future. A skilled translator will be able to gauge precise meaning from context, just as she or he will be alert to subtle variations in style and culture.

This ability to visualize translation in context doesn’t only depend on the skill of the human linguist. It also leans heavily on the right choice of language technology. A translation management system with a user-focused visual mode gives the Japanese linguist an instant snapshot of their work and its impact. Changes the translator makes are instantly displayed in the target text preview, enabling informed language decisions and a more engaging message.

Helping clients to strike this balance between language technology and linguistic skill and successfully launch into new territories is a challenge we relish. Meeting the challenge has made us many friends in Japan and we wish them and their country well today. We’re inspired by Japan’s journey over the past decade and while these Olympics may be restricted by events outside the hosts’ control, we look forward to seventeen days of excellence.

Because whether we see it on the field of play or enable it in translation, excellence is always the goal.