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!

Author: Doug Nix

Doug Nix is Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Compliance InSight Consulting, Inc. ( in Kitchener, Ontario, and is Lead Author and Senior Editor of the Machinery Safety 101 blog. Doug's work includes teaching machinery risk assessment techniques privately and through Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Kitchener, Ontario, as well as providing technical services and training programs to clients related to risk assessment, industrial machinery safety, safety-related control system integration and reliability, laser safety and regulatory conformity. For more see Doug's LinkedIn profile.