Monday, April 27, 2015

The “Normalization” of Relations with Cuba

Now that there has been some normalization of relations with Cuba there are some things to consider about the island nation before thinking of pursuing this market.

Most businesses and properties are still government owned and privatization will take place at a very slow pace. The big problem with Cuba is the lack of technology, mainly the internet. Internet availability beyond usage by the government is only at about 22%. Up until 2008 people weren't even allowed to buy their own computers. So if you have or have access to a laptop or tablet of any sort, you are probably a government worker or in some type of intelligence department. Most only have access to a radio if that.

Due to the way the country has been and is still functioning, in Cuba an average worker makes the equivalent of about $20 a month. As most rent and living expenses are still subsidized by the government, Cubans are still worried about paying for the basic necessities and don’t have any spending capital. Those who have been able to visit Cuba in the recent past comment on the old fashioned cars they still drive. So the latest trends are not known or have been lost there.
Businesses - the few that exist - have little disposable income. And Cubans, don’t want to attract businesses simply to make money. There will be bureaucratic red tape and you will likely have to deal with a local intermediary if they will accept you. All business deals between Cubans and foreigners, as well as any formal business deals between Cubans themselves, are made with the explicit knowledge and approval of the Cuban government and its structured more for socialism than open capitalism. Any “business” has to meet both the social and economic need in the country, determined by the state and not simply the consumers, so most entrepreneurs have to check their egos at the door and be prepared to do things the Cuban way.

Even hotels and restaurants have limited services and are owned by the government as a way to get hard currency. And it’s all cash. Due to the fact there’s no real viable internet and most don’t even have bank accounts, credit card machines and other means of electronic payments are few and far between.

But if you are forward thinking and venture out and try to break into the market, consider a translation vendor with access to Cuban Spanish linguists. The unique political situation today has led to the development of words which are specific to modern Cuban culture. There will be many different preferential words for things, words that aren’t the most widely used in other Spanish speaking locales. Over the years of being isolated, the language has become debased by "street" language rather than any foreign influence. It's also become very pedestrian, although a normal "high" register of language can be expected in formal and business communications. English is known by some but used more in the hospitality and recreational industries.

Bottom line, even though there is much talk about Cuba opening up, we may not see a great commercial sector to play with right away.  

The Impact of Translation

Finding actual statistical information is very difficult, so for those who are driven by numbers, it will be hard to find any. Who wants to take part in a survey to say they missed the boat? The translation industry itself has not engaged in getting to the numbers either positively or negatively either. What can be told, are actual stories to support the need of translation in at least three main areas.
  •     Loss of Sales Versus Unlimited Growth
Several international studies confirm that, in spite of living in a globalized world, buyers still opt for proximity for products or services that are being offered in their language. This statement is based on the premise that we feel more at ease if we understand what we buy and if we do not clearly understand a product or service, we are reluctant to request it. To address your prospective clients in their language will convey the trust and proximity they need to utilize and purchase your products or services instead of those of your competitors.

As an example, a U.S. equipment manufacturer was doing business with a company in China. A new sales rep came on board and suggested to management that they translate the manuals into Chinese. The owner said there was no need and their client had never asked for it in all the years they were dealing with them. Several months later, a competitor from The Netherlands stole the business right out from under them and for more money. How? They approached the Chinese company in their native language and offered all the manuals and support materials to be provided in Chinese. Sad to say that with the loss of that one large client the company went out of business.
Reversely, another company saw growth from $3M to over $40M in ten years with market and global diversification, which included the translation of the necessary materials to support the strategy.

  • Employee Safety and Engagement
There is a growing concern regarding the increased amount of non-native speakers in higher injury risk jobs working for American companies either in the U.S. or abroad. The number of workers for whom English is a second language is expected to continue to increase in the future. Therefore, taking a proactive initiative is critical to ensuring worker safety. It is imperative to remember inclusivity in safety training versus exclusivity. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. Bridging the language gap in workplaces small and large with the ultimate goal of aggressively eliminating injuries, illnesses and fatalities for all workers, is essential for success.

English-speaking workers have the benefits of learning from each other. Traditional safety training is not effective for non-native English speakers or those who speak a little English, especially when it is delivered by a trainer who expects the worker will receive it properly enough to understand and use it. Furthermore, safety memos, tool box talks and posters are not as productive when only presented in English. Efficient communication with non-English-speaking employees results in fewer workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, as well as increased morale, productivity and profit. Injuries impact insurance and unemployment rates as well as leave open the door for law suites.

OSHA has alliances and public-sector outreach initiatives for Latino and Hispanic workers as well as other non-English speaking groups. Many OSHA publications and safety training materials are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Creole, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.
  •     Costly Legal Ramifications
The legal ramifications of not having a translation of even the simplest of documents can have such an impact that a business could fail. The legal realm of translation is a really broad area and can cover any of the following both internally (employees, distributors, or vendors) or externally (customers or competition):
  • Product liability issues from misuse of the product and injury
  • Loss of proprietary information and trade secrets that result in loss of sales and court costs to rectify
  • Law suits from an employee who is let go, to a class action suit filed on the behalf of many injured parties
  • Breach of contract and use of logo
  • Patent infringement cases; such as infringement on a current patent held in another country 
  • Exporting or importing compliance and regulation followed incorrectly may mean a delay in being able to sell, as well as additional legal fees or IRB costs.
Certain industries like chemical, medical and pharmaceutical, and other countries as well, require the translation of specific material to be compliant. Product labels, instructions for use, or equipment warning decals may need to be provided in the target language. So know what you need to have in order to do business in a particular country.

Where there may not be necessary rules that mandate translation, there are the safety issues of products or equipment exported and the risk of injury and results that should be considered. Manufacturing equipment, safety equipment, electronics and consumer related items such as food, beauty items, and toys. Any that would present a hazard or danger if improperly used, should be properly communicated.