For English, press one. Para español, la prensa dos.”
The familiarity of this everyday message shows us how companies are increasingly recognizing the need to alter their business practices to reach new demographics through multilingual communications.
No speak English
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only about half of the Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. speaks English “very well.” This signifies a potentially massive communication gap that could be preventing millions of dollars in Internet sales. When the purchasing power of the U.S. Hispanic population has been estimated at around $700 billion by HispanTelligence®, closing this gap can prove to be extremely valuable to ecommerce sites.
While “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” may not be the best attempt at reaching out to the Spanishspeaking population, many companies are successfully using multilingual advertising and services to reach new customers. In the ecommerce world this could be done by using tools like a website translator or making a completely different website in another language. Sites like Babel Fish and Google Language Tools allow users to translate either blocks of text or entire websites with the click of a button. Babel Fish allows companies to display a link on their page in which users can simply click on a flag to have the website translated. It currently supports English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.
Free tools like these may seem like a bargain, but the return can be low at best. Some of them still lack the capability of translating Asian languages accurately. And, since the U.S. Census Bureau reported the Asian population to be the fastest growing origin group in all regions of the nation, this can be a fairly large disadvantage.
Another problem with these tools is the liability involved in accurately translating a product description. In retail, if something translates differently because of a double meaning or different word arrangement, you could wind up with some very unhappy customers. Can you really be sure that your automated translation of a “Michael Jordan Jersey” doesn’t actually mean that you are selling one of Michael Jordan’s jerseys?
A more expensive, yet safer, option would be to pay someone to translate the website, taking care to look at the correct meanings of words and sentence structures. Some ecommerce software providers offer specialty site tools that merchants can use to launch their website in another language with a different look, while pulling from the same inventory.
Alternatively, sellers could run a completely different website in a desired language. The site could even have a .com domain name in that language—which could be a lot easier than paying out the wazoo to get the desired domain name in English.
Better in the long run
While this option can be more time consuming and costly, it may turn out to be a much safer option in the long run. The chances of promising something you don’t intend are much lower.
So, while there is a lot of potential value in targeting the purchasing power of the non- English speaking populations, it is important to consider the liability involved and make sure you do the job properly. You don’t want that gold-plated ring you’re selling translating into a plate of gold rings—a real bargain for only $19.99.