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The best languages for a post-Brexit world

The best languages for a post-Brexit world
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In the event of a hard Brexit, UK businesses that trade heavily with the EU should fling their nets wider and seek opportunities in future fellow third country markets, says a 2017 report by law firm Baker McKenzie and economics consultancy Oxford Economics.


”The Realities of Trade after Brexit” reveals the top non-EU countries best positioned to help four of the UK’s key industries – automotive, consumer goods, healthcare and technology. It seems that our future trade saviours could be the US, China, Japan, Canada, Korea, Mexico, Australia and Switzerland.

We look at what this means for global UK businesses and the impact it could have on your future translation services requirements.

What is a “third country”?

If you’re not a global trade aficionado, you might be wondering what we mean by “future fellow third countries”. Well, when Britain leaves the EU, it will become what EU treaties call a “third country”. This refers to any country whose citizens do not enjoy the EU right to free movement, as defined in the Schengen Borders Code. The phrase applies to Switzerland and Norway, for example, as much as to Japan and the US.

What is a “hard Brexit”?

It’s probably also useful to outline what we mean by a “hard Brexit” in context of this study. According to the report, a hard Brexit is “one in which the UK leaves the EU customs union and bilateral tariffs revert to WTO “Most Favoured Nation” levels of all UK-EU trade in goods. This would be a worst-case scenario, which the UK is seeking to avoid.”

What the report says 

Across all four key sectors of automotive, consumer goods, healthcare and technology, trade with the US comes out on top, followed by China. UK businesses operating in the consumer, healthcare and technology industries would do well to look towards Japan as a future trading partner. Canada looks a strong ally in the automotive, consumer goods and healthcare industries. Automotive businesses should also consider Mexico and Australia. Mexico again comes out strongly, just behind Korea, as a good opportunity for the UK technology industry. Switzerland (a non-EU member, remember) could be another future remedy for the UK healthcare industry.

Third country opportunities, “The Reality of Trade after Brexit”
  Automotive Consumer goods Healthcare Technology

According to the report, overall across the four industries, UK companies seeking to counteract the impact of a hard Brexit would need to increase export revenues to third markets by a massive 60 per cent. However, the challenge in the consumer goods industry is the greatest. This sector would need to increase export revenues within the best third country opportunities by as much as 150 per cent. This could well put a whole different slant on your translation services requirements

What this means for UK business translation services requirements

Let’s now look at these eight countries – USA, China, Japan, Canada, Korea, Mexico, Australia and Switzerland – in terms of possible future translation requirements. We’ll start with the US – the UK’s strongest future export partner. 

Translation requirements – US

American English is its national language, which involves a bit more than changing your default language in Word. Yes, we swap the letter ‘S’ for ‘Z’ in words like “Americanization” and remove a few ‘Us’ such as in “color”, but some words in British English mean very different things – or nothing at all – to American English speakers. 

For example, that cheeky favourite, the American “fanny pack”, which we know as “bumbag” on this side of the water. Or the British expression “popping out for a fag” – better not go there.  

And let’s not forget the millions – 20 per cent – a fifth – of the population that speak Spanish, Indo-European, Asian and Pacific (eg Hawaiian) and other languages. 

Translation requirements in China

Standard Mandarin is China’s official language, however the country has around 15 other official languages or dialects. They include Cantonese (used in Hong Kong and Macau), Portuguese (Macau), English (Hong Kong), Mongolian, Haixi, Bayingolin, Bortala, Korean, Tibetan, Uyghur, Zhuang, Kazakh, Yi and Honghe. 

And then there are scores more indigenous languages.

Translation for Japan

Japanese is Japan’s most widely spoken language. It is separated into numerous dialects, with the Tokyo dialect considered standard Japanese. Ryuykyuan languages are also spoken in Okinawa, for example, and there are many indigenous languages spoken, as well as a large number of foreign languages such as English, Russian and German. 

Translation for Canada

Canada’s first language is English – well, Canadian English to be exact. It’s a mixture of American English, British English, Quebec French and unique Canadianisms. 

Its other official language is French, which is used in Quebec and other regions. The three next most frequently used languages are Mandarin, Cantonese and Punjabi – the latter is the most frequently reported immigrant language in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. 

Translation requirements for Korea

Korean is the official language of Korea. It has multiple forms and is based on the complex Hangul script. South Korea has seen five continuous decades of economic growth, and is now a serious contender in global markets. 

Translation requirements for Mexico

Many indigenous languages are spoken in Mexico. Mexican Spanish, however, is the key language here.

Possible translation requirements for Australia

Australia has no official languages, believe it or not, although English is the accepted national language since European settlement. Australian English differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling. The most common spoken languages otherwise are Mandarin (2.5 per cent of the population), Arabic (1.4 per cent), Cantonese, Vietnamese and Italian (1.2 per cent each).

Translation requirements for Switzerland

For such a small country, Switzerland – a wealthy contender to help the future UK healthcare industry – has four official, national languages. They are German (63 per cent), French (23 per cent), Italian (8.2 per cent) and Romansh (0.5 per cent). 

The languages of Switzerland all have their own, specific Swiss flavour. For example, Swiss German isn’t the same as standard German. In fact, some of the language is so culturally specific that it can be almost impossible to translate. This is another example of why it’s so important to use translators whose mother tongue is the destination language, and who have a cultural understanding of the region. 

Please get in touch if you’d like to find out how we can help you plan for translations in a post-Brexit world. Or if you’d just like a chat about your translation services requirements. We’re always happy to help