There is a popular story online about the Ford Pinto not doing well in Brazil because of its slang translation in that country (yes, a male body part). The story isn’t true, though, because the Pinto was never sold there. Similar stories abound about the Waterpik in Denmark, Gerber baby food in France and even lattes, which, let’s just say, aren’t a coffee drink in Germany.
If you are going to market in another language, be careful that you understand the nuances of the language so you don’t insult your audience. These concerns used to be limited to marketing in other countries. Now they apply inside the United States as more than 60 million people – about one in five legal residents – speak a language other than English at home.
Many of the almost 200 languages now spoken nationwide by legal residents are completely new to this country, and companies and their advertising/marketing professionals are simply not ready for them. This is a challenge and an enormous opportunity for marketers. Studies show that people are four times more likely to purchase goods and services when presented with buying opportunities “in-language.”
To give you an idea of the scope of languages spoken in the U.S., we track millions of requests for over-the-phone interpreters nationwide each year. Our index reveals that Spanish continues to be the most requested language in the top 20 cities between Q3 2010 and Q3 2011, supporting 2011 Pew Hispanic Center and 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data.
A number of other languages also show tremendous growth. Requests for Mandarin Chinese increased in more cities than any other language – 14 out of the top 20 cities. The highest increases were in Memphis, Tenn. (58%), Austin, Texas (44%) and San Antonio (43%).
Arabic and Vietnamese were both among the top-five most requested languages in 12 of the 20 cities. The highest increases for Arabic were found in all top 20 cities in Texas – El Paso (314%), San Antonio (91%) and Houston (78%).
The highest increases for Vietnamese were in El Paso (100%), New York City (62%) and Houston (48%). Russian requests increased in 10 of the 20 cities, with the highest jumps in San Diego (90%), Memphis (57%) and San Francisco (24%).
Additional market-specific findings nationwide:
Burmese was among the top-five languages requested in 7 of the 20 cities. The highest increases in Burmese interpreter requests were all in Texas – in El Paso (800%), San Antonio (70%) and Austin (33%).
Somali was the second-most requested language (trailing Spanish) in Columbus, Ohio, and Memphis.
Interpreter requests for Karen – spoken by 1.3 million people in Myanmar, formerly Burma – jumped 90% in Indianapolis and 63% in Dallas.
The healthcare industry is helping lead the way in reaching these foreign language speakers as new Joint Commission standards on language access move out of the pilot phase and begin impacting accreditation decisions on Jan. 1. Revenues are not the only things at stake. Organizations that fail to comply also risk losing critical government funding.
Fortunately, services and apps to help companies interpret and translate are growing in the U.S. and allow any size organization to speak to people in-language. Over-the-phone interpretation services are well established for hundreds of languages and, increasingly, sophisticated mobile-based technologies are nearing deployment.
To drive new revenues, it’s important that companies and their marketing professionals take their global communication strategies domestic to avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes, and to claim their portion of this largely untapped limited English speaking marketplace.