Believe it or not, this colourful phrase started out as “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”.  In a clumsy mistranslation from English to Russian, it’s fair to say that willing or not, the spirit of the message has been lost

Abstract terms such as “spirit” are a major stumbling block for the inexperienced translator, and the negative knock-on effect for clients can be damaging.  Many Wolfestone clients make good use of abstract language in their corporate brochures and marketing material.  Marketing translations or technical translations which fail to convey the spirit of your message, or worse make it nonsensical, could hardly be more counter-productive.

A Wolfestone manager was recently reminded of the cultural pitfalls our clients face.  In this country the simple act of showing five spread fingers with the palm facing out would be unlikely to provoke a reaction.  In Greece, however, it would cause deep offence.  Greek people refer to this gesture as “moutza” and it dates back to Byzantine times when prisoners were paraded with their faces covered in dirt, which was applied with their own palms.  Centuries later it remains one of the most common gestures of insult among Greeks.

Some of the most successful British exporters have learned these cultural lessons the hard way.  It’s our good fortune that Wolfestone clients are happy to share their knowledge with us and help others avoid the same mistakes             .

The message we hear time and time again is a simple one: if you’re targeting a completely unfamiliar market, don’t go it alone.  Even companies with market leading products have suffered costly failures overseas.  A sizeable marketing budget can disappear before your eyes, with little or no impact on consumers.

At a recent export forum a British business leader told us of the time wasted and expense incurred by attending one indifferent event after another, before they finally formulated a strategy to target the most suitable markets and organise their own events.  By choosing the right partners they were able to take control of their message and convey it clearly to who they wanted, when they wanted.

They might have reached their destination more quickly with the advice of OnSensor, a Wolfestone partner with an outstanding track record in helping emerging companies and emerging market governments to prosper by taking an integrated approach to communications strategy.  As well as supporting prestigious private sector clients, OnSensor has developed national branding solutions, increasing tourism and attracting foreign investment for clients throughout the world.  Satisfied customers include national governments on three continents.  OnSensor has built a loyal client base by delivering a well-crafted, brand orientated and design-led product.  Their guidance paves the way to a far-reaching public relations and branding strategy.  As a translation service provider, Wolfestone is delighted to support OnSensor.  As an information provider and an advocate of good business practice, we’re delighted to recommend them.

Wolfestone clients seeking to connect with consumers in unfamiliar countries can have their message shaped by translators and interpreters who actually live, work, buy and sell there.  Our people are completely in tune with your target market because they’re part of it.  And with partners whose global influence extends to national branding, we’re well placed to offer advice and guidance on any aspect of your strategy.

Of course you can go it alone, and we’ve all come across examples of businesses that succeeded without any outside support.  But there are many more examples of businesses that succeeded by seeking out specialist advice and partnership at every stage.

At Wolfestone we believe in identifying trusted partners who share our values, and working closely with them to mutual advantage.  Dynamic, ethical businesses such as OnSensor add value for their clients in all corners of the globe, and we’re proud to be associated with them.

Our principles and our partnerships ensure that when clients need our support, the spirit is definitely willing and nothing about the service is weak.



For more information about Wolfestone services:

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The professional translation services you can trust!

by Wolfestone Admin
  • You hit the nail on the head, but I want to take it even one step further: The English-to-English quandary.

    My copywriting agency serves the entire English speaking world. Over the years I noticed that some of the customers who approached us had been successful in their own countries but failed to do nearly as well when expanding into other English speaking countries. Neither the business propositions nor the products could be blamed.

    Interestingly enough, in each of these cases, sales increased as soon as we localised the language and the message. I am sure a refined go-to-market strategy would have resulted in an even greater success. It is a pity that I was unaware of OnSensor at the time.

    Thank you for this very insightful blog!

  • Thanks Debbie, you make an excellent point which I’d like to develop in next week’s blog – it will focus on your native South Africa. Translators always make a clear distinction between, say, European Portugese and Brazilian Portugese, and rightly so, but sometimes the disparity between British English, South African English and American English can be just as clear.

    It often surprises Britain’s English speakers to learn that the language they gave the world is now pluricentric. Unlike French, which is guided by the Académie Française, English has no central language authority to dictate what is the norm. Technically, the language spoken in Sydney, New York or Johannesburg has as strong a claim to the title “standard English” as the language spoken in Downing Street or Buckingham Palace. I agree that a strong partner such as OnSensor can help to make sense of these issues and from what I know of your work, I’d say partnering with a first rate copywriter who works to the highest ethical standards is also a very good idea.

  • Amita Sharma

    This is interesting to me because the differences in Indian English draw some comment and some snobbery from English people and I don’t believe the Prime Minister in Downing Street or the Queen in Buckingham Palace would agree that other versions of their tongue are just as much “standard”. I know English people have found a lot of humour in the Indian use of the progressive tense (I am doing this, I am understanding this) but this is not a misunderstanding of English, it’s an inclusion of a grammatical point from Hindi which is an example of what I think Debbie Bouwer is referring to with localisation of English. I think the article is good but I think sometimes that English people should do more to respect other cultures and respect what they bring to the English language and also economically.

  • Amita
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that the incorporation of Hindi grammar is a good example of why “English to English” localisation is important. I also agree that British people sometimes misunderstand other cultures, and Britain’s history in this area has certainly had its negative side. You mention the economic contribution of Britain’s partners, and anyone showing snobbery towards India today is not only being very discourteous but also showing a poor understanding of India’s economic status and potential.

    I will defend Britain as a country that continues to move towards multiculturalism and respect for others. For example, if I want to know more about the English spoken in Downing Street, I can ask my Managing Director at Wolfestone. She came to this country from Poland eight years ago, started a career from scratch and built a business based on cultural inclusiveness which is now one of the most successful and fastest growing in Wales. Last month, in recognition of this, she received an invitation from the Prime Minister to celebrate St David’s Day at 10 Downing Street – click on this link for more details:


    India’s cultural contribution to the UK is something to be treasured, and while it’s true that some people don’t respect it the way they should, there are many more who are embracing multiculturalism in all walks of life. Wolfestone’s head office employs staff covering eight different nationalities, all of whom have added immeasurably to the business and to the wider culture and economy. That makes me proud and it also makes me optimistic for this country’s future.

  • Paul Chammings

    Your point about partnerships is a self-evident truth. I’m familiar with OnSensor, notably for their work with national branding. I once attended an embassy reception at which their PR/Marketing contribution was praised to the skies.

  • Gavin Dibley

    OK – as someone who got it wrong overseas before getting it right, what is your definition of an “integrated communications strategy”? I learned the hard way in China & went to every trade fare that let me in before chancing on good contacts. If I’m now advising or seeking advise for another market what’s step 1? I’m not talking about national branding just a plan.

  • Becky Shellard

    Hi Gavin

    If you’re looking to break into an unfamiliar market the guidelines vary from country to country but some general principles are always worth following:

    Trade shows
    You’ve touched on the hit and miss nature of trade shows, and it pays to research events in advance. You should be able to find out how long an event has been running, what kind of audience it’s generated and what calibre of exhibitors it attracts. The more prestigious shows will publicise an exhibitor list well in advance. Check out this site for examples:

    Choosing your partners
    UKTI is an excellent partner for the British exporter, and their services include comprehensive guides on trading country by country. They can also help you find an overseas distributor.

    This article outlines the services OnSensor offers to clients and I’m happy to add my recommendation. Yes, they have a notable track record in national branding but their expertise applies just as effectively to a corporate message. If you’re looking to communicate via film, I’ve heard good things about their production company http://www.onsensorproductions.com

    Finally, don’t just translate your website and promotional material – localise them. Debbie Bouwer has commented above on the need to localise from English to English in markets such as South Africa and her point is equally valid for any unfamiliar market. In recent months this blog has discussed the benefits of localisation, industry by industry and country by country and whatever your target market I’m sure you’ll find something useful in these articles and the discussions they’ve prompted.

    You’ve probably spent huge amounts of time and money perfecting your product. It’s worth the additional investment to make sure its keys selling points are conveyed to your target audience. Good luck.

  • Gavin Dibley

    Thanks Becky that looks like good advice & very helpful

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