As easy as Yi, Er, San

One part of marketing and communications that I’ve observed companies the world over doing poorly is translating their websites into multiple languages. Western companies in English based societies, generally, are particularly poor at translating their website(s), marketing collateral and consumer contact channels into foreign languages – even where relatively high percentages of the population speak other languages.

Australia seems to be equally, if not especially, behind in this area, but I can’t really see why. Australian businesses have more incentive than most to embrace non-English based trade, internal market expansion and exposure.

Australia prides itself on being a multicultural society and a business community heavily exposed to Asian economies. Yet glancing at the websites of the companies that make up the ASX20 only a handful have foreign language options, and of those, some only address specific sections of their websites in languages. One large financial institution for example does do a very good job of translating ‘moving your banking to Australia’ in a handful of languages. But what it doesn’t do is translate the whole website, or core parts of the website into any one of those languages for domestic consumers who might prefer, and have better language skills, in their native tongue, rather than in English.

Some stats about Australia, from the always reference-able Wikipedia:

“According to the 2006 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 79% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Italian (1.6%), Greek (1.3%) and Cantonese (1.2%); a considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. A 2010-2011 study by the Australia Early Development Index found that the most common language spoken by children after English was Arabic, followed by Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, and Hindi.”


The important statistic above is the 79%, and then flipping it. What the data really means is that 21% of the population speaks at least one other language other than English which may be their preferred language, and or,  the bilingual members in the household speak no English at all. That is a huge market, and a huge market opportunity. Using 2011 population estimates based on 2006 census data, that 21% represents approximately 4.7 million individuals – almost equal to the combined populations of Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The question is not “Why should we embrace this market”, the question is “Why wouldn’t you want to embrace this market?” This bilingual market overlaps many of the current markets businesses target everyday. Being more accessible to more groups within them can only be a positive.

In an age where businesses at all levels and scales are rushing to seek market advantage using social media to connect, talk and get closer to customers, it seems that many are looking to greener pastures without tending their current crops.

Looking to grow established and new internal markets, being more culturally sensitive and aware, as well as serving tri-beneficial purposes of instantly being more accessible to foreign markets, tourist dollars and the children of parents in Australia who have limited English, it just makes sense to look to all reasonable growth paths and competitive advantage.

Language is universal, doing something with it isn’t, and therein lays the opportunity.

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