When expanding UK businesses start to think about the realities of their language translation projects, they may not initially consider the politics of language as being a major factor to consider. However, this would be a mistake, as in many countries around the world, including many of the fastest-growing developing economies, there are hundreds of different languages spoken, with each carrying its own significance.
Different languages may be spoken by different age groups or socio-economic groups. Perhaps speaking a certain language in a particular geographic region would land you in trouble due to past tensions between different groups. In some cases, these tensions aren’t even in the past.
When considering a translation project, it’s vital to look past the word-for-word black-and-white nature of the job and instead take time to examine the intricacies of the country’s linguistic history and traditions. It goes without saying that working alongside language translation experts on the ground in your chosen location will help with this most sensitive of localisation projects.
Our translation experts are native speakers working all over the world to ensure they have the insight they need to help you translate with demographic and political sensitivity. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating area of our work.
What is translation by demographics?
Translating by demographics is something all global businesses need to think about carefully if they want to target the right people with their messages. Most of us are aware that cities are becoming larger and more populated and some countries are seeing major economic growth after decades or even centuries of being left behind on the global stage.
As a result, the language used by younger, more educated and wealthier people living in these large cities is different from the language used by those still living rurally. For a business in the tech industry, or selling luxury consumer products, for example, translating for the wealthier urban demographic is probably wise; while a business selling agricultural products or commodities may need to be more widely understood by people all over a target country, so a different approach to translation may be necessary.
This is just one example that illustrates the concept of translating for demographics. However, let’s look at some specific examples from around the globe:
Although the official language of Nigeria is English, and some 60 million people speak English, a vast number of other languages are still commonplace among much of the population. There are some 500 native languages spoken in Nigeria, including Hausa (spoken by more than 60 million people), Igbo (spoken by 50 million people) and Yoruba, (spoken by 40 million people).
Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are also the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, of some 250 in total. It’s fair to say that the language you speak reflects who you are and carries with it great significance, in a way that many English business owners might not recognise or appreciate.
It is also the case that English tends to be the preferred language among Nigeria’s youth population, which is the third-largest in the world. There is a noticeable pattern in that younger Nigerians, especially those living in urban areas, are much more likely to speak English than older Nigerians living rurally.
This has led to concern among some about how older Nigerians are being left behind in terms of their access to everything from smartphone technology to banking services.
India is a country with strong identities from state to state. Language is a marker of your identity and there are some tensions between speakers of different languages that any business hoping to move into the country needs to be aware of.
In India’s southern states, for example, there have been recent reports of protests against the introduction of Hindi signage.
Satish Deshpande, a professor of sociology at Delhi University, told the BBC: “In many parts of south India, Hindi is a foreign language.
“In recent cases where a state has tried to cater to Hindi-speaking people over the regional population, there has been uproar because language is a part of their identity – it’s a strong marker of boundaries in India.”
How to avoid falling foul of language politics when going global
Examples like those above suggest that moving into countries with multiple languages is somewhat of a minefield. Well, there are certainly pitfalls to avoid, but intelligent language translation services can actually help you to better target the market you want to sell to.
The right type of translation by demographics can even help to empower certain communities and rebalance the playing field for certain age groups, ethnic communities or socio-economic groups.
The key to ensuring your business hits all the right notes when tackling a translation project is to ensure you are thinking about it as a cultural and human task, rather than simply changing words from one language to another.
Taking care to consult local translation experts will help ensure you take the right approach. This could involve creating a generic language version of your website that provides access to the largest number of people as possible or localising your direct marketing material to target different language speakers in different regions.
Translation, when done with cultural insight and sensitivity, can make an enormous difference to your international expansion. It can allow businesses to provide much-needed services to vulnerable or isolated communities in developing countries. It can also help your business to speak to certain consumers in the language they feel most comfortable with, helping them to trust your offering over others that fail to use their dialect, for example.
Language is, after all, so much more than just what we say. In certain regions, the language we speak says more about us than almost anything else and the significance of language politics should never be underestimated.
Talk to Bubbles about your international expansion plans and let our experts offer insight on any linguistic issues affecting local politics.