Translation Bafflement

iStock_000009386795Small - Photo of Instruction manualI’ve been noti­cing a trend with some of my cli­ents that I am hav­ing a really hard time under­stand­ing – maybe a read­er can help me get this…

A basic require­ment in the EU is that manu­als and oth­er inform­a­tion a man­u­fac­turer provides to their cus­tom­er be provided in the offi­cial lan­guage of the coun­try where the product is being sold. One pos­sible way around this is to provide a graph­ic­al set of instruc­tions. Probably the best example of this is IKEA, where everything is done graphically.

To me, this is only logic­al, after all, if I buy a product I’d like to be able to read the instruc­tions in English, and I can’t ima­gine that oth­er people wouldn’t want to read the instruc­tions in their nat­ive lan­guage too.

But here’s the thing — I reg­u­larly have cli­ents who don’t want to trans­late their instruc­tion manu­als. They look for every pos­sible excuse, from ‘those guys didn’t do it’, refer­ring to a com­pet­it­or, to ‘the cus­tom­er speaks and reads English, so we don’t need to trans­late’. The first excuse is laugh­able in my opin­ion, and the last one is at least some­what plaus­ible, but the law requires trans­la­tion. Simple. Sell the product in Germany, provide instruc­tions in German. Sell it in Italy, provide instruc­tions in Italian.

IKEA Desk Chair Instructions
Graphical Instructions, IKEA Style

This even holds true here in Canada where I live. In most of Canada, English is pre­dom­in­ant, but every pack­age is marked in English and French, and instruc­tions are provided in English and French. Why? Because we have two offi­cial lan­guages, English and French.

So what’s the big deal? I under­stand that there is a cost attached to trans­la­tion, but it’s a cost of doing busi­ness in anoth­er mar­ket and should have been eas­ily fore­see­able in devel­op­ing the product budget.

If you can explain this to me, I’d love to hear from you!