TIL has recently being working with a lot of clients who have been focusing on international expansion and growth due to stagnant economies closer to home.

Q. How important is it for your business to communicate your message in foreign tongues?

Q. Where is your market currently? Google’s Market Finder could help…

The EU might be a good place to start to unwrap the interaction between language and business, providers and consumers.

The European Commission released a comprehensive report on ‘Europeans and their Languages’ in 2012. Labelled the ‘Special Eurobarometer 386’ a survey was carried out by TNS Opinion & Social network in the 27 Member States of the European Union. 26,751 respondents from different social and demographic groups were interviewed in their mother tongue.

Some of the findings of this report are of particular to both the translation industry and from a business/e-commerce & marketing outlook.

  • In  accordance with the EU population, the  most widely spoken mother  tongue is German (16%), followed by Italian and English (13% each), French (12%), then Spanish and Polish (8% each)
  • Countries where respondents are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language are  Hungary (65%),  Italy (62%), the  UK and  Portugal (61% in each), and Ireland (60%)
  • 54% of Europeans are able to hold a conversation in at least one other language. This means that almost half of the European population speaks only one language.
  • The  five most  widely spoken  foreign languages remain  English (38%), French (12%), German (11%), Spanish (7%) and Russian (5%)
  • The most notable changes since 2005 are an  increase in the proportion of Europeans who regularly use  foreign languages on the internet (+10 percentage points) and  when watching films/television  or listening to the radio (+8 points).
  • 39% of Europeans know a foreign language well enough to communicate online, however just 26% feel they can understand English well enough to communicate online.
  • English is the most widely understood, with a quarter (25%) of Europeans able to follow radio or television news in the language.
  • The majority of Europeans  (81%) agree that all languages spoken within the EU should be treated equally.
  • Europeans recognise that translation has an important role to play in a wide range of areas across society, most notably in education and learning (76%) and in health and  safety (71%).
  • Europeans perceive translation as important while looking for a job (68%), getting news about events in the rest of the world (67%), participating in or getting information about EU activities (60%), accessing public services (59%) or enjoying leisure activities such as TV, films and reading (57%).

These figures provide some positive aspects when it comes to multilingualism in Europe – even though the figures suggest multilingualism itself is not on the rise. However, people want to communicate with one another and learning/understanding a language other than your own is held in high regard.


Q. What about Europeans as consumers?

Q. Does a consumer’s buying behaviour differ when they have to decipher product/service information in a foreign tongue?

Nataly Kelly, for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog discusses an interesting study which was carried out by the European Commission in 2011. The study was based on a Gallup survey of language preferences [PDF] among internet users in 23 E.U. countries:

  • 9/10 Internet users said that, when given a choice of languages, they always visited a website in their own language.
  • Nearly one in five Europeans (19%) said they never browse in a language other than their own.
  • 42% said they never purchase products and services in other languages.

Therefore although more Europeans are willing to surf the web in a foreign language compared with 2005 – and 26% of whom will do so in English  – this does not mean they will follow through with a purchase. Multilingual Europeans still prefer to BUY in their native languages.

What’s the reason for this? Perhaps it’s easier and the content is localised and is therefore more relevant to the buyer; perhaps it saves time and simply feels more natural.

According to HBR ‘there is an undeniably strong link between in-language content and a consumer’s likelihood of making a purchase’

The Common Sense Advisory surveyed 2,430 web consumers in eight countries to learn about how language affected their purchasing behaviours.

  • 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
  • 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
  • 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

This last one is interesting – although consumers are visiting sites in English, they are less likely to purchase on these sites. This means that half of your potential customers are willing to pay more if you provide them with the relevant information in their own language.

If you own a business and you are currently reviewing your language strategy, it may seem like quite a feat to represent all 23 officially recognised EU languages, not to mention the regional ones – but there are solutions. Language clusters can work depending on what region you are targeting and those countries that have higher rates of multilingualism could also cut your costs.

Let us know what your view is?

Do you surf the web in languages other than your own? And if you do – do you purchase from these sites?





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