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!