English-only multinationals are a bad idea

You can decree that the employees of your company speak only English.

You can train everyone.

You can test everyone.

And you can get everyone to speak English in meetings, just as you mandated.

But be careful what you wish for.

Just because everyone speaks English doesn’t mean everyone is communicating.

Doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable.

And, most importantly, doesn’t mean people are as effective as they want to be.

The fact is, global companies have been around for centuries and they somehow figured out how to function with many shared languages.

As this Harvard Business School article points out, the rise of “Englishnization” is causing problems in the workplace.

World 3.0: Making Sense of a Semi-Global Planet

I received an advance review copy of Pankaj Ghemeawat’s new book World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It.

I greatly enjoyed his previous book, Redefining Global Strategy, calling it a valuable counterpoint to Tom Friedman’s book The World is Flat.

In his newest book, Pankaj sets out to chart a course forward that balances global integration (globalization) with regulation.

In light of the global recession, Pankaj does not want to see countries revert to an all-or-nothing approach to globalization — either embracing globalization with no checks or balances or completely closing the door to trade, immigrants, ideas, etc.

Of course, charting such a course requires making sense of a world that cannot be easily summarized in sound bites — something most American politicians seem unable or unwilling to do. The fact is, the globalization “train” has long ago left the station. We’re all connected, whether we like it or not. We can either choose to create relationships that benefit everyone or we can live with the outdated mindset that some countries must win at the expense of others. What I really appreciate about Pankaj’s writing is that he believes that globalization (properly regulated) can benefit everyone and he backs up these beliefs with plenty of data and recommendations for politicians, business leaders, and ordinary folks like myself.

What I most liked about this book was how Pankaj debunks popular misconceptions about globalization, which he calls “globaloney.” For example:

  • We have vastly overestimated how global we think we are. At best, Pankaj writes, we are semi-global. According to Panjak, global exports account for just 20% of global GDP. Cross-border Internet traffic accounts for about 20% of all traffic. And about 20% of VC money is deployed outside of that VC’s borders. And from where I sit, as one who studies web globalization, most companies are still very much in the early stages of figuring out how to expand globally.
  • Globalization has not, in fact, resulted in less diversity of brands, but greater diversity. He cites the auto industry, which is more diverse today than it was forty years ago. He stresses that globalization is not a one-way street towards homogenization.While there are Starbucks and McDonald’s seemingly everywhere, the US has seen its fair of share of international retailers set up shop here as well — from IKEA to Uniqlo. But more important, Pankaj illustrates how global brands are effectively localized to such a degree that they are just as local as they are global.
  • Successful global trade depends heavily on trust. And it’s easier to trust someone who shares your language, culture, and time zone. Pankaj cites data to show how trade levels drop the further two countries are from each other. He devotes quite a bit of ink to just how little trade is conducted between the US and Canada, despite our shared language, time zones, and cultures. Why is that? He cites obstacles like lack of harmonized rules and regulations, customs nightmares that hold up goods, and other seemingly minor details that, in total, give companies reason to rethink expanding beyond borders.

However, I think Pankaj does a bit too much debunking at times. Pankaj says that the “race to the bottom” of countries focusing on low costs at the expense of the environment, human rights, etc. simply does not exist. I disagree. He focuses on pollution largely but there are so many other issues that should be addressed.

For instance, factory farming is, in my view, an absolute atrocity and it is now being exported around the world via US trade agreements. That is, when the US exports meat that has been produced cheaply via factory farming, local farmers in other countries are forced to embrace factory farming to remain competitive or go out of business. A number of Korean family farmers committed suicide in protest of the recent trade agreement between South Korea and the US. Pankaj vastly trivializes these so-called “externalities” and, in doing so, overlooks what is one of the great (and growing) forces mobilizing against globalization.

That said, I recommend this book. Pankaj is one of a handful of writers who are tackling globalization, warts and all, in a thoughtful manner. Globalization is not a black and white argument; there are many shades of gray and this book does a very good job of shedding light on them.

The Top 25 Global Web Sites of 2011

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2011 Web Globalization Report Card. This year, we reviewed 250 web sites across 25 industries. The web sites represent nearly half of the Fortune 100 and nearly all of the Interbrand Global 100.

Out of these 250 sites, here are the top 25 overall:

Google, which has held the number one spot for years, was unseated by Facebook this year. Facebook’s recent innovations (multilingual social plugins, improved global gateway, multilingual user profiles) gave it the edge. (I’ve devoted a separate report to Facebook’s innovations.)

Companies like 3MCiscoPhilips, and NIVEA have become regular faces in the top 25. But there are some new faces as well. There are five companies new this year to the top 25: Volkswagen, Adobe, Shell, Skype, and DHL.

Although these 25 web sites represent a wide range of industries, they all share a high degree of global consistency and impressive support for languages. They average 58 languages — which is more than twice the average for all 250 sites reviewed.

The average number of languages supported by  all 250 web sites is 23, up from 22 last year. As the visual below illustrates, language growth over the years has been amazing. Seven years ago, I was thrilled to find a web site with more than 20 languages. Today, 20 languages is below average.

Language is just one element of web globalization, but it is the most visible element. When a company adds a language, it is making its global expansion plans known. If you want to know where your competitors are betting on growth, spend some time looking at their local web sites. More than twenty companies added four or more languages over the past 12 months.

Fast-growing languages on the Internet include Hungarian, Turkish, Indonesian, and Russian. Here is where Russian stands today — now found on nearly 8 of 10 web sites:

In the Report Card, languages account for 25% of a web site’s score. We also evaluate a web site’s depth and breadth of local content, the effectiveness of the global gateway, and overall global consistency. Beginning in 2010, we have also begun tracking how companies promote local social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter around the world. Our goal was not only to highlight the leaders in language but to identify those web sites and services that were globally “well rounded” as well as innovative.

The top 25 web sites are not perfect. The Report Card details many ways these sites could be improved (including Facebook and Google). That said, the executives who manage these web sites and services deserve a great deal of credit. As someone who has worked as both a consultant and an employee at companies such as these, I know how challenging it can be to get the funding to add languages and staff and to educate various teams on the many complexities of web globalization. While it may be the company names that appear on the top 25 list, it is the hundreds of passionate and bright people who got them there.

Congratulations!

Facebook: From 1 to 100 languages in two years

It was just over a year ago that Facebook started localizing itself for the world.

As I noted then, the company utilized crowdsourcing to spur its translation efforts. And though volunteers aren’t the only people translating content, a year later, Facebook has done an impressive job of going global.

Om Malik recently reported some key stats from Facebook’s global expansion efforts. Among them:

  • Facebook is available in 43 languages and is in the process of being translated into another 60 languages.
  • 40 percent of Facebook users are not using English.
  • 25,000 volunteers helped translate Facebook into Turkish last year, and there are now 9 million Turkish-language users signed up for Facebook.

facebook_gateway

Even though only 43 languages are available now, if you add the Facebook Translations application (which i really recommend doing if you’re into this sort of thing), you’ll see the other 60 languages in the pipeline — many of which look pretty much good to go.

facebook_gateway3

Here’s what the Translations pull-down menu looks like:

facebook_gateway2

So many languages my computer is lacking for fonts.

It’s a very safe bet to say that Facebook will support more than 100 languages a year from now.

Translating numbers in China

As John wrote awhile back: All lucky numbers are local.

And this is particularly true in China, where people pay thousands of dollars to obtain license plates with lucky numbers.

So when it comes to naming products or setting prices, you have to be very careful about your choice of numbers. Here are some tips:

6 means “good fortune.”
8 means “abundance of wealth” or “make lots of money.”

The number 8 is a very lucky number, and the reason why China chose August 8th, 2008 to kick off Olympics Games. Vehicle license plates and cellphone numbers containing 6 or 8 are coveted and often auctioned to the highest bidder. A recent example: A C88888 vehicle license was auctioned in Guangdong where it sold for RMB800,000 (around USD113,000). The new owner hopes this license number helps bring good fortune — though presumably the owner was already fortunate enough to have the money to spend on the license plate.

9 means “forever.”

If a boy wants to buy a rose for his girlfriend, he will typically buy 9 roses. If he wants to splurge, he’ll buy 19 roses — and if he’s affluent, he’ll buy 99 roses. September 9th is Senior People Day in China, to ensure that th elderly live a healthy and long life.

4 is pronounced the same as “dead.”
13 means crazy, abnormal.

If a Chinese person says “you are 13”, it means “you are insane!” Some buildings, like in the US, avoid having a 13th floor. Instead, they use floor 12B. And although the pronunciation of 4 sounds like “dead,” there is a positive way to portray the number: In a musical scale, 4 is equialent to “fa,” which is pronounced closely to “make money” in Chinese. My old phone number contains “5854” and my Chinese friends say it is a great number because it means “I make money and then I make money again.” I am happy to hear their comments.

51 in Chinese is pronounces like “I (5) wanna (1).”

You’ll find a lot of businesses and Websites using 51 in their names. 51job is the largest online human resources company. So you can tell a lot about a company simply by the numbers it uses in its domain name. Since 1 sounds like “wanna,” the number 18 is also popular as “wanna make money” and many people will choose the 18th of the month as a new business opening date or a wedding date.

Even numbers > odd numbers

Chinese people like to use even numbers rather than odd numbers because even number are related to the concept of “pairs” which usually means “perfect” in Chinese culture.

With regards to business, if a company produces different versions of products, expect them to produce 6, 8, or 12, 36 different versions. And you can always find prices like 88.00, 128.00; 156.00 in China’s shopping malls.