What languages should I translate for multilingual countries?

You know you need to translate your campaign for other countries, but what do you do if those other countries are multilingual?  Do you need to translate in every language spoken in your target market? And what about translating for territories where the same language is spoken but in many different variations? What does it mean to translate or localise for multilingual countries?

The challenge of working with multiple languages

Translating for countries where multiple languages are spoken can be a real challenge. If you translate your message poorly in one of the languages, you risk it becoming culturally irrelevant or politically offensive. Fail to translate it at all and it won’t even register on the radar of your potential customer.

It’s the same story when you’re translating in territories where in theory the same language is spoken, but there are so many variations that one translation won’t work for everybody. A good example to illustrate this issue is Latin America and Spanish. Around 60% of the population of Latin America speaks Spanish however each Latin American country has different local dialects, as well as rich cultures that influence the languages spoken there.

A better way to translate content for multilingual countries

The rule for translating for multilingual countries is the same as for any other translation. Know your customer base and the language/dialect/language variation they speak.

Create a neutral translation

If you want to reach a wide audience in a country where there are many regional variations of the same language you need to do your research first. The initial step is to brief an experienced translator (that knows the local cultures well) on the final purpose of the copy, and also to consult translators from each of the markets and check the cultural relevance of the localised copy with them. What you’re aiming for is the most neutral translation that will be commonly understood by the widest population. A global marketing implementation agency will be able to advise on the best in-market linguists for the job.

Cover all the main languages

If you’re translating for a multilingual country, rather than one with many variations of one language, the best approach would be to do multiple translations. It’s best to cover both bases in countries like Belgium, for example, where there are large numbers of both Dutch and French speakers. And the same goes for Switzerland where you have a mix of German, French and Italian or Singapore where there are English, Mandarin, Chinese, Malay and Tamil speakers.

On target

Understanding the language mix in a specific location means you can drill right down and plan campaigns with very specific targets. With digital marketing you can create adapted campaigns for specific cities – for example you could target the population with a campaign created in Helsinki with Finnish, Swedish and Russian. There are online resources that will help you understand your own requirements.

Do your research

Another example would be India where there are twenty-three official languages in use, and hundreds of variations. Not only is the lack of one common language a challenge, there are also linguistic conflicts between the different communities/territories. It is very important to be aware of these linguistic tensions before attempting to translate for this country so that you can take into account all of the different preferences.

Spend time talking with the local marketing team, and analysing your audience and your market in relation to your product. You might find after your research that you need to redirect your campaign, so it’s best to find this out as early as possible. Your global marketing implementation agency will be able to help you adapt your campaign for multiple target audiences.

Be precise

In the case of a wide market, like Latin America, think carefully about who it is you are aiming to influence. If the message is only directed to one part of the population, make sure you choose a translator from that particular country. You want someone with specific cultural knowledge as well as writing skills. In-market linguists precision and detailed knowledge of the target market will be key to launching a successful campaign.

Key points to remember

  1. Consider these points before your next project kicks off.
  2. Decide who are you targeting with your translation. Know your customers and their needs. Where exactly is your client base?
  3. Analyse the market and identify the languages spoken by your target audience – is one of the languages dominant? More commonly spoken?
  4. Evaluate what will maximise your impact, revenue and audience reach so that you can keep the budget to minimum.
  5. Prepare a detailed brief that explains all the background information, and clearly sets out the aims of the project.
  6. Make sure you select relevant and culturally aware linguists.
  7. Use an experienced global marketing implementation agency that knows the challenges and can advise you on different ways to proceed.



Freedman International
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