Alain J. Roy, CEO of ASTA-USA Translation Services, INC.
In 1980, approximately 23.1 million people in America spoke a language other than English (LOTE), according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. This number tripled by 2019 to an astounding 67.8 million people. While various languages make up this statistic, with Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Arabic ranking high, Spanish significantly outranks them all and makes up 61% of all LOTE speakers.
Even though English remains the primary language used, it is crucial to note that on the federal level, the United States does not have an official language. Unlike other countries that simply embrace multiculturalism, the utopian dream in America has always been to create a melting pot where all cultures meld and assimilate to create a singular, diverse and robust nation. Although delving deep into the population will in fact reveal heterogeneity that supports the language statistics of the U.S. Census Bureau, a look into the business documents, marketing materials, employment contracts and employee handbooks within most organizations would lead one to believe otherwise.
For example, businesses, in general, tend to reserve investments in language services for international business dealings or market expansions. Translation and localization are, in fact, imperative to successfully penetrating new foreign markets, but they are also pertinent to a business’ performance within the domestic market.
However, there are five crucial reasons to stop treating Spanish as a foreign language:
A Preference For One’s Native Language
Research has repeatedly shown that consumers prefer to purchase products or services when presented with information in their native language. As many as 80% of consumers surveyed by CSA Analytics expressed that they preferred a personalized experience when shopping, while 55% simply declared if they can’t read it, they won’t buy it.
With nearly 70 million non-English speaking individuals in the domestic marketplace, failing to translate product, service or marketing information into other languages rapidly eliminates around 38.5 million potential customers. By the same token, a small investment in language services has the potential to generate a whopping ROI by re-introducing these potential customers to a brand, product or service that they are more receptive to.
Greater Brand Awareness
Competition is a given in any sector and identifying and expressing the benefits of one product or service over another is one of the most challenging aspects of the marketing world. Offering translated marketing materials, products/services or other information positions a brand as more inclusive and diverse than those that fail to invest in language services.
Likewise, it offers a wider advantage for digital marketing efforts like Search Engine Optimization (or SEO). Renowned digital marketing expert Neil Patel reports that his web traffic increased by as much as 47% by translating the content. This is because countries like China and India have far more internet traffic than the United States and others like Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia also have significant levels.
Naturally, these users will use their native languages to browse the web, and the websites they visit will utilize keywords in their respective languages. Business websites in America are typically only optimized for English keywords, meaning that they miss out on millions of potential web visitors—both domestic and international in nature. When web content is translated; however, the website and therefore brand, begin to appear on SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for keywords in other languages.
Increased Trust And Improved UX
Beyond those who speak a LOTE expressing a desire to read product or service information in their native language, when a company meets these needs, it goes far beyond making a sale. When consumers see that a company has taken the time and consideration to translate its materials into Spanish or any other language(s), it instantaneously positions the company as considerate, diverse, and inclusive. Furthermore, having access to information in their native language typically results in an overall better user experience. This lends itself to brand loyalty and builds trust among the LOTE-speaking community.
Broader Appeal As A Strategic Business Partner
Potential customers within the domestic marketplace are not the only ones reached when translating content into Spanish or other commonly spoken languages in America. Spanish-speaking investors, for instance, may notice an organization that caters to their native language, or partnerships may form between cultural associations and a culturally inclusive brand.
Perhaps even more intriguing, organizations are not limited to working with English-speaking experts and professionals when language services are in place. This means that they can attract the best talent or utilize the most acclaimed vendors or service providers in the world, regardless of the language that they speak.
Mitigated Workplace Risks
LOTE-speaking individuals in America are active members of the workforce. Despite this, many businesses fail to provide translated materials for employees who may not speak English as their primary language. While they may understand the basics, language barriers in the workplace put these employees at a much greater risk of accidents, injuries, or errors. By providing information in their native language, these risks can be mitigated. Businesses should also keep in mind that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, does not require employees to be trained in English, but rather with information that they understand.
By acknowledging and embracing the fact that millions of Americans speak Spanish or another LOTE, businesses can tap into their full potential within the domestic marketplace. From reaching a wider audience, to better SEO and user experiences, forging more strategic alliances, and mitigating workplace risks, the benefits are all-encompassing. And reaping these rewards only requires one minor shift: stop treating Spanish as a foreign language and embrace LOTE speakers as a valid market segment in the U.S.
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