Which languages should you be translating to?

The noughties have ushered in a new era and we’ve witnessed an exciting shift in technology, socialising and shopping. We’re now looking at 3.4 billion internet users per year – 3.4 billion… it makes your eyes water at the thought of how many languages you’d need to master in order to attract attention from all over the world, a world in which more than 6,500 dialects are spoken. It can’t be done, surely? It sounds impossible. Think of the knowledge, the time, the resource you’d need to facilitate that scale of globalisation …

Well, in fact, our increasingly globalised society means that, in 2017, just three languages are needed to reach half of your online audience. Triple that figure if you’d like to talk to 80% of your potential customers online. Just 14 languages will secure your digital presence in a whopping 90% of the online retail market. If it’s the gold standard of global communications you’re striving towards, you’re looking at a total of 52 languages in order to target 99%.

Let’s start smaller – you may already be getting organic traffic and making some sales in at least one non-domestic market, surely a little proactive attention, a refreshed approach, would drive even more traffic than you’re already getting? Test the waters in your current comfort zone while you’re learning more about the impact localisation can have. For example, are you already gaining traction in the US? How about offering some localisation in Mexican Spanish on your website to take better care of your American Latino customers? Latino America now represents a bigger portion of the world than Canada, representing 13% of the entire US population, and averaging more online page views per day than other American users. Latino Americans famously retain their culture, with 78% speaking Spanish despite living and working in a dominantly English-speaking society.

Now you’ve tested the impact of localisation in one of your comfortable, well-known markets, let’s plan your next big move. If you’re going to pour resources into localisation, let’s make sure you’re going to get some bang for your buck.

So where should you look to next? Which countries have been flagged as offering the most economic potential?

Chinese is a ‘safe’ bet in terms of winning new online business by providing localised content. Currently, just 2.1% of web content is in Chinese, despite Chinese speakers accounting for more than 20% of web users overall. It’s a fast-growing market as well as an emerging one, with 72% of online Chinese shoppers making their first purchases just in the last two years. 2015 saw $15 billion in online sales from the region.

After the United States and China, we see Germany, France and India crop up time and time again in ‘top ten’ lists of countries with high-value GDP.

Close to home, Germany is Europe’s largest and strongest economy, ranking fourth overall in global terms, sitting on $4.13 trillion of purchasing power. The number of German online shoppers has jumped by 20% since 2010, and they account for 25% of the entire eCommerce turnover in Europe. If your mobile shopping experience is already strong, you’ll be an especially attractive prospect for German shoppers, with 10% of all sales from the country made on a mobile device. And if your bread and butter is clothing sales, Germany is also a great prospect for you, with clothing accounting for 64% of all online purchases made by German shoppers.

France’s low poverty rate and high standard of living, along with their flourishing tourism industry, make them strong contenders, and, with over $3 billion in online GDP and an online audience of more than 90 million people, an attractive country to mine for new customers.

India’s expanding middle class and the fact the economy doesn’t rely on exports as much as other countries makes it one to watch if you’re looking for new territory to expand your business in – Investopdia predicts India will jump to fourth place in the global rankings by 2022, having already overtaken China.

Also worthy of serious consideration is Japan. Japan is a land of opportunity, accounting for almost three trillion dollars of world e-GDP and holding fourth place in the world’s largest online audience, and a forecast of 122 USD in online sales in 2018. Who wouldn’t want a slice of that revenue opportunity.

To succeed in these markets, localised content is less of a ‘nice to have’ and more of a necessity. The front-runners in global online opportunity are among the least tolerant of online shopping in a non-native language. We know from our first article ‘Does language really matter? that Chinese, Japanese, French and German browsers were among the least comfortable making a purchase on a non-native site, so make sure you’re working to turn those browsers into buyers with reviews, purchasing information, and the option to buy in their native language. France, Germany and Japan take slots four, five and six in the list of the top 100 languages the Common Sense Advisory (CSA) believe will support your digital growth.

Don’t worry too much for now about providing every ‘flavour’ of a language, choose one which will have the broadest impact across your customer base – any customer of yours with any Spanish understanding will prefer seeing at least some Spanish content if the alternative is none at all. Of the 440+ million Spanish speakers around the world, 256+ million of them are active internet users. That’s well over half of your potential Spanish-speaking audience who are currently likely to be ‘tolerating’ mostly English language web content. And remember, if you’re localising content for Spanish speakers, you’ve also opened yourself up to that huge, active Latino American audience we talked about. That’s two massive markets you’ve now got the keys to expand into with one lot of localised content.

Arabic content offers similar multi-country potential. While there are many different spoken dialects, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language of the Arab world. Target one country with MSA and a much larger opportunity presents itself.

With around 420 million speakers worldwide, it’s the official language in 19 countries, and between them, Arabic speaking countries are sitting on a collective GDP of over $2.8 trillion. Online growth is relatively recent too, with 72% of online shoppers only making their first purchases in the last two years. Back in 2012, sales figures for e-commerce sat at $9 billion, but by 2015 they had soared to $15 billion. That’s a potentially huge market to make an impact in with just one language, and it’s important to Arabic shoppers, with CSA figures suggesting that the majority of shoppers only buy from websites in their native language.

The online shopping picture, as it stands today, means that just a handful of ‘mega languages’ are needed to reach more than 75% of the people on the web. A scatter-gun approach would be a mistake here. Have a think about where you are now – what could you be doing better; and then where you want to be – the next ideal region you want to conquer. Decide which first step makes the most sense for you and your customers, and once you’ve opened the door to localised content, you’ll be on your way to globalisation.

PureFluent is the channel of communication between brands and their fans in international markets. With dynamic, authentic communication, customer experiences become more meaningful, global staff become more engaged, loyalty and profits grow. Let us be your companion on your global journey. Contact Kirsty Lappin at kirsty.lappin@purefluent.com or on +44 (0) 2070 434444.

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Tolerated today, gone tomorrow

Your products are stunning. Your brand is strong. Your social media and marketing teams do a fantastic job and online sales are growing. You know you’ve got something special and your customers seem to agree, in your home market at least. With so much going for your brand, you can’t fail in new international markets, right?

Sorry, it’s not that simple…

When it comes to international online sales, your brand, product and marketing may certainly drive shoppers to your site but it’s the experience that will convert curious visitors into loyal customers. And language is key to the international customer experience.


Let’s try to understand how an international customer (let’s call her Miriam) might experience your site…

Miriam is browsing Instagram. She sees one of your products and clicks through to your site. Miriam is excited at the gorgeous range of products by this unique new brand and is curious to explore further. Miriam doesn’t speak fluent English so looks for the translation option, but her language isn’t available. That’s ok, with a combination of intuition and recognition of a few English terms from her school days, she begins to navigate the site. With some trial and error, Miriam soon forgets her growing frustration when she finds the perfect item for her upcoming special event. The sizing isn’t localised, Miriam wonders if it will fit. It’s obviously not a local company, maybe there are extra costs involved in returning it. In fact, the shipping costs are probably extortionate too. Miriam clicks on what she assumes are the T&Cs.  She starts to feel a little overwhelmed. Maybe it’s not worth the risk.

Miriam abandons her cart….

Language plays a critical role in converting browsers to buyers. 70% of the online population are not native English speakers. That still gives you 30% potential market share though, right? Right…if you are prepared to limit your global potential to the 30% of fluent English speakers who may or may not want to buy your products.

Even the most proficient language speakers prefer their own native language by a wide margin. According to the Common Sense Advisory, 84% of shoppers prefer buying from online sites that are offer content in their own language. 74% will buy again if after-sales are in their own language and 75% would like to see reviews in their own language if nothing else. Some nationalities even prefer bad translations to no translations!

Despite these compelling statistics, many business owners still hesitate to commit to localising online content for international customers. Of course, some shoppers can and will tolerate English language business communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you? How sustainable is a customer toleration strategy?



How many minutes are there in a while?

Some months ago I bought myself a motorcycle. As you may know, it’s sensible for riders to lube the chain of their bikes from time to time. So, having read some “user generated content” in specialised blogs about which are the best products and how to do it, I bought what seemed to be the best chain cleaner and lubricant.

First you have to apply the chain cleaner in order to get rid of all the dirt and residues.

Wondering how long I would have to let it dry before removing the dirt with a non-abrasive brush, I thought it wise to check the instructions on the can … or rather first identify which of the languages I understood as the instructions came in no fewer 29 (!) languages.

Spanish, English … all fine … but let’s check if there is also a German version (there is nothing like your mother tongue when it gets down to the real nitty-gritty like checking instructions, descriptions, etc.)… And there it is!

“Auf die Kette sprühen und kurz einwirken lassen.” (Spray on the chain and let it work for a short time) …

But how long is a “short time”?! This is the first time I´m doing it and I don’t want to screw it up by leaving the product too long on the chain (which may damage the seal – who knows!) or leave it for too short a time (which may leave residues on the chain, again causing an issue).

20 seconds, maybe a minute, maybe two?

“Short time” …  a very relative expression …

So I started to see what the other languages said. ALL the other 28 languages state that you have to let it dry for 5 minutes. Except German …

In my opinion there was no need to be creative in translating such a detail.

That’s something the proof reader should have spotted!

And if the producer (a multinational company selling products across the globe) had integrated a quick internal language quality check into their translation process, I´m pretty sure they would have spotted the issue as well.

To be honest, in this case, this little detail may not be a matter of life or death. But when it comes to translating instructions on the correct use of a product the development of which has cost you millions, you had better ensure you take the time to get it right!

Shopping for Translations

The other day while I was at the airport waiting for my plane I sort of asked myself how I would go about shopping for translations services, assuming that I knew very little or nothing about the industry or services. How easy would it be to contact with a company who not only support me with my translation needs, but also to give me advice on how to best proceed, what content to translate? Going global can be very expensive and ROI is a major factor in any business, so it needs to be done right. With my budget in hand, my Director would probably ask me to arrange our AW15 Catalogue to be translated into the 6 languages.

A Google search for ‘translation agencies’ brought up ‘approximately 4,110,000 results’ (in 0.56 seconds). A good start would be setting a list of requirements and needs, checking with industry associations and getting some names, searching and looking them up, start a selection process. I realised that this was going to take a while and that is as far as my exercise got.

With literally millions of translation agencies on the internet, most of which seem to have the same offering, making the selection process even harder, shopping for translations may be a daunting experience.

A relationship with a Language Partner that fully understands the time, effort and skill involved in developing a distinct brand identity, which customers over the world will recognise and identify with, is the objective. A partner that helps you become a true global brand by capturing the elements which make your brand unique and successful in your domestic market, and transmitting the same message consistently to a larger global audience.