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Business cards can be key in global communication: understanding the cultural nuances of design, localization and interpretation.

'Designing a business card for use in another country is just like doing due diligence on an overseas partner," warns Tim Langley, director of Analysis & Intelligence Services based in Tokyo. "We consciously spent a great deal of money on the quality of our paper and printing for our localized cards in Japan. We knew that the Japanese would look at and feel our business cards with close attention. To them, the details say a lot about who and what we are."

Localizing, or adapting your business card to the language, style and usage of the country you're doing business with is becoming a commonly accepted practice for progressive international companies today.

Many recognize that providing cards translated into your foreign partner's language not only shows respect, but also is an important way of assuring that your company, title and crucial information are communicated accurately.

"Even if the rest of your marketing materials or documentation are still in English, localizing your business card is an inexpensive way to make a positive impression on prospective international clients," says Eric A. Johnson, Ph.D., an independent translator and localization consultant in Denver, Colo. "It can also be an important first step to getting recognized by someone who doesn't speak English or whose English is not proficient."

Localization vs. Translation

Business cards can often require more than translation.

"Localization, which includes translation, implies a much larger process of cultural adaptation than the mere conversion of a message from one language [the source language] into its exact equivalent in another language [the target language]," explains Johnson.

"Many business people think you can simply transfer one language into another by translating the source text word for word," he adds. "In practice, however, any knowledgeable translator knows this will usually produce an inaccurate result."

For example, slogans or bylines on business cards can often be especially challenging to translate into another language. For the original meaning to be retained - both conceptually and culturally - phrases in English often can take hours to render in a second language. This is particularly difficult with non-Roman languages, and, more often than not, may need to be rewritten totally from scratch.

Johnson explains that the translation of marketing bylines requires a special skill and understanding of a company's desired message. He suggests, "When you work with a translator, give her an explanation of your intention and be flexible. Also, be prepared to brainstorm alternatives and consider other options."

Remember how long it took for you to come up with your byline in English and you will have a perspective on the time it can take to agree on an accurate translation in another language. Further, overall translation costs for this kind of service may be more expensive than originally expected.

Options for anyone needing business cards in a variety of different languages include printing a separate card for each language needed, or, printing an "international" card with English on one side and the most critical languages on the backside. For example, a trilingual card could be used in Europe (German French) or Latin America (Portuguese and Spanish), with the standard information located on the front side in English, and the product and marketing information on the backside in the other two languages.

Other Considerations

Other translation and localization issues are also worth considering when exploring the best options for communicating who you and your company are in a foreign setting.

* Depending on how complex your message is, keep in mind that most languages will require more space on your business card than does English.

* In some areas such as the European Union, it may not be practical to translate your business card into each of the local languages.

"One solution to this is having your business card translated into the most widely used languages of a region," suggests Johnson. "In Europe, for example, these would include English, French and German - even though you may also have clients in Denmark and the Netherlands."

* A business card may also have a totally different purpose and meaning in different countries. In Japan, for example, one's business card represents the individual in a much deeper and more meaningful way than in the West. In fact, the Japanese use a special case for their business cards, which is also used to elevate and display the card of someone else in a proper way when received.

* Generally, there is also a preferred proper size for business cards which is important to align within each country. If your card is too big, it will not fit your client's card filing system and will get put aside. If your card is too small, it will fall between your competitor's cards and get lost.

* "If the name of your business helps to identify your product or service, it may be a good idea to have it translated as well," adds Johnson. "Just be sure to keep your English business name somewhere on the card as the object is not to create a new trade name in a different language."

* Sometimes addresses need to be localized as well. This is not as complicated as it sounds, however, as usually only the name of the country must be translated. For ease of use, telephone and fax numbers should also include the country code.

* In general, native speakers are best at selecting appropriate wording for cultural context. Their knowledge helps assure that your message will be interpreted clearly and accurately where subtle cultural nuances in meaning and interpretation may be missed.

* When specifying your preference for Chinese language translations, be sure to indicate where your material is going. Simplified Chinese is used primarily in mainland China, while traditional Chinese is preferred in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Typesetting Considerations

if you're working with European languages, minimal problems are usually encountered when using a standard business card printer in your community. By re-entering and reformatting your text in roman characters, and accurately inserting the accented characters for your target language, most reliable printers can do a sufficient job of typesetting your translated business cards. But beware - a poorly translated business card, or incorrect accent marks, can quickly mar any good impression you're trying to create.

"If your business card printer merely suggests photocopying your laser printer output," says Johnson. "You might want to find another printer or make sure your translator has given you camera-ready copy."

He adds, "Theoretically, you should have as much choice in the font and typeface of other languages as you do when using English. For languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai, you should seek out a typesetter structured to handle non-Roman languages - unless you have high-quality laser output from your translator. Most professional translators will offer a choice of font styles to chose from to match the image you want to convey."

The deeper historical significance of business cards in Japan is explained further by Langley, "Westerners are often completely unaware of the subtle hierarchy being honored in a Japanese meeting room, but the social protocol of 'business cards' goes back centuries in Japan."

Traditionally, everyone in Japan wore kimonos with five embroidered crests. This communicated immediate knowledge about the social position of the approaching person, how to address them and the depth of the bow commensurate to their ranking.

Today, Japanese men wear uniform-like business suits. But ranking is still very important and a core theme that runs through every introduction, interaction or encounter in Japanese society. Because kimonos with crests are only worn on special occasions now, the business card has become Japan's contemporary indicator of rank and importance - via the name of the company, quality and formality of the presentation and person's title.

Indeed, in a global modern age, the historical significance of even the simplest of rituals may hold deeper truths worth pondering and time spent adjusting.

Cynthia L. Kemper is president, Edgewalkers International, Denver, Colo., and syndicated international business columnist for The Denver Post.
COPYRIGHT 1998 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Kemper, Cynthia L.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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