March 2015
By Ben Whittacker-Cook

Image: © Anton Balazh/

Ben Whittacker-Cook is Global Communications Writer for Straker Translations, a software based translation service with translators from every continent.




Why New Zealand is the land of opportunity for the localization market

Despite its seemingly insignificant role on the global market, the island nation on the edge of most world maps boasts an astonishing amount of benefits for international businesses. Could it be the next go-to destination for the localization industry?

New Zealand may not seem like the obvious location to set up a localization and translation business. Geographically it’s tucked away on the bottom right hand corner of most world maps and, at first glance, its linguistic competency seems insular. Its three official languages are English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language, while a mere 19.3 percent of women and 17.8 percent of men speak more than one language, according to the nation’s 2013 Census.

A monolingual island?

There’s also evidence of a second language-learning shortfall faced by New Zealand’s schools. While educators and politicians are devising a national language policy to tackle the problem, dig deeper and it’s clear that these statistics tell only a fraction of the story. Rather than being a confused mass of nationalities, New Zealand is earning a reputation as a homogenous, friendly and inclusive place to live and work. It’s a “go-to” destination for thousands of migrant workers and their families from all over the globe.

There are more than 160 different languages spoken in New Zealand, and Auckland is one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities. The census also reveals that the most commonly spoken languages after English are Māori, Samoan, Hindi, Chinese, French and Yue (Cantonese).

This is one of the main reasons why New Zealand is at the very forefront of the translation and localization industry. Every day New Zealand’s workforce is bolstered by migrant workers from Europe, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and North America, all bringing with them specific working cultures and different work ethics, which combine the very best business practises from east and west.

So rather than focusing on New Zealand’s monolingual problems, the country’s more forward thinking companies are mining the wealth of linguistic treasures it has at its disposal. That can only be a good thing for industries that rely on multiculturalism to succeed.

The best country for business

From a business perspective, these are exciting times for New Zealand. It boasts a young population (53 percent of New Zealand’s 4.5 million residents are aged 39 or under) and it has great international reach, with long established trade links with Australia, the USA and Japan and, in 2008, it became the first western country to sign a free trade agreement with China.

In 2012 Forbes rated it first in its list of "the Best Countries for Business". The Corruption Perceptions Index also ranked it as the second least corrupt country in the world in 2014.

Its economy is stable and resilient and the World Bank placed New Zealand top for protecting investors in 2012, and first in the world for ease of starting a business in 2014.

New Zealanders also possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit – it’s almost something of a national trait, and a strong streak of innovation runs through the Kiwi psyche. Little government interference, and a lack of ‘red tape’ and regulation also make it a land of opportunity for start-ups.

While New Zealand’s schools play catch up to solve its multilingual problems, its students are among the most computer-savvy in the word. iPads in the classroom are commonplace, and e-learning initiatives are all the rage.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education has set a target of 97 percent of schools to receive ultra-fast broadband capability by 2016, and is developing a clear digital education strategy “which will support schools and educators to harness new technologies to prepare students with 21st century skills.”

These young Kiwis will be New Zealand’s primary workforce over the next 20 years – a workforce of diverse ethnicity; possessing excellent IT and multi-language skills fostered through home and school, and a keen global outlook.

A advanced Internet economy

That’s all very well, but for localization and translation to truly work, a territory needs a sound IT infrastructure, and New Zealand’s is solid and booming. The technology industry is New Zealand’s fastest growing sector, is worth billions to the country, and is the third largest export earner after tourism and dairy.

New Zealand’s IT workers are highly skilled and highly experienced. They’re also highly valued. Advertised roles are up 11.6 per cent year-on-year, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment estimates that wages in the technology sector are twice the New Zealand average, with four times as many firms investing in research and development than the average.

Successful NZ Language Service Providers (LSPs) are all closely linked to, or have roots in, technological development. Between 2000-2010 the CSD (computer systems design) industry’s workforce grew by 78 percent and shows no signs of slowing, while the World Economic Forum ranks New Zealand among the world’s ‘advanced’ Internet economies.

A natural need for localization skills

Rather than looking in over the relatively small domestic market, successful Kiwi businesses are facing out. Export-oriented thinking is essential to compensate for the small size of the domestic market. This very requirement makes localization an essential and attractive necessity for businesses seeking to expand into international markets.

Time zone benefits

New Zealand’s unique and hugely advantageous position in a 'negative’ time zone for the global market works in its favour. It is in step with Asia’s business day, is a few hours ahead of Australia, and is still operating when the west coast of the USA are at lunch and Europe is tucking into its coffees, croissants and English breakfasts.

That’s a real plus for the translation industry. Translators can work through the northern hemisphere night to have content back by the time the client wakes, but only if translators can be sourced in the New Zealand time zone, or close to it.

A dedicated workforce

At present, translators in New Zealand tend to charge lower rates than those in Europe due to lower demands, making them increasingly more dependent and loyal to New Zealand companies.

The majority of translators in this part of the world work on a freelance basis for the bigger companies. A smaller market also means that reputation is everything – a bad translator simply won’t get the work. Translators in New Zealand are meticulous and dedicated and produce consistently high quality work.

Translation companies in New Zealand use "auctions" to secure the services of freelancers. Translators bid for jobs and are regularly tested to ensure high standards are maintained and that the cream always rises to the top.

Outsourcing language services is a low risk way for translation providers to keep on par with demand, ensuring staff costs are always in balance with revenue. LSPs have access to a continuous stream of highly qualified and talented freelancers seeking work from all over the globe.

The only drawback is the risk of self-assessed quality and the huge amount of investment LSPs have to put into quantifying quality, testing and ranking, not to mention software storing and accessing data against each freelancer.

The larger the provider the more translators available to meet client deadlines but the more cost involved in tracking and maintaining translator relationships. The smaller the provider the less commitment translators have and the less priority the LSP has with the translators as the ability to provide work is less.  

An outlook to the future

There are no typical territories looking to New Zealand for their translation needs. Clients from Southeast Asia, Europe and the USA are commonplace, and industry sectors that are particularly well represented are education, medical, legal and gaming, which once again, are areas where Kiwi innovation and talent is strong.

What does this mean for the future? If things continue to go as they have been over the past few decades, ethnicity in New Zealand will carry on playing to its strengths, empowering the industry to take advantage of the nation’s isolated location, "anti-social" time zone and select population to enlarge its role as a key player in the global LSP market place.

New Zealand companies continue to make their mark on the world stage – often in sectors not normally associated with this part of the world. The Wellington-based Weta Workshop design studio, for example, continues to scoop major film gongs in Hollywood for its special effects work, and the country’s numerous winemakers are consistently winning awards across Europe and the USA.

What connects these companies is ambition, talent and strength of innovation – core Kiwi business traits. The same can be said of New Zealand’s translation companies, who are contributing more than their share to the $40 billion global translation industry, while boasting enviable blue chip international client portfolios.

Understandably entrenched in its deep Māori culture, one of New Zealand’s problems is how to walk the delicate tightrope between preserving its linguistic heritage and tapping into its huge, complex, and ever increasing multinational language resource in an ever-changing world.

The New Zealand localization business is doing a great job in working that balance – harnessing the skills of a talented and committed workforce, and getting the rewards it deserves. It’s the new hot spot for the industry and businesses big and small, near and far, will do well to look a lot closer at the bottom right hand corner of that world map.