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Association Member Outreach: Moving Beyond the Bilingual

Association Member Outreach: Moving Beyond the Bilingual

By Randall Craig

If you are reading this, the chances are very high that you understand English. But what if you didn’t? What if your target audience didn’t? Or what if your target audience did understand, but felt more comfortable in their own mother tongue? The obvious solution: translate your content.

While it is tempting to keep to the standard English and French, many associations are finding that an important source of new members include newcomers to Canada - or that public advocacy or stakeholder relations means reaching out beyond the English or French language communities. StatsCan reports that in 2011 (the last time data was available), 20 per cent of the country spoke a language other than English or French at home. In Toronto, only 55 per cent of the population reported speaking only English at home; in Vancouver, the number was 58 per cent.  

With these statistics, the question is not if, but rather how to translate the content. There are two main alternatives:

1. Custom Translations: On the surface, this merely involves sending the English text to a translator and then posting the results on your website or within social media. Dig under the covers though, the reality is a bit more complex:

  • Choose the dialect of the translation based on your target audience. The Spanish used in Spain, Argentina, and Miami are different, as is the French from Quebec and France.
  • Choose a translator. A North American translator will understand your (local) context far better than someone who lives abroad but may not be familiar with the most up-to-date idiom.
  • Send the final text to them for translation.
  • Find an independent local person who can review and verify that the translation is actually correct.
  • Make revisions; this involves some back and forth between the reviewer and the translator.
  • Post the translation online.
  • Proofread the post, to ensure that the characters, encoding, accents, etc are all correct. Test it in a few browsers.

2. Google Translate: This usually involves putting a small bit of code on each website page. When a user gets to the page, they use a drop-down menu to choose a language for the translation. This solution is cheap, fast, and convenient. Unfortunately, it is not always best. Some downsides:

  • The system doesn’t take into account either dialect or localization.
  • The system is literally a “system”: it makes mistakes.
  • It doesn’t translate graphics.
  • It translates English-only names into French if it thinks that the names are actually words.
  • If the user relies on the page for legal purposes, an automated translation – which may change as Google’s translation algorithm changes – would be inappropriate.

Unfortunately many organizations are not thinking beyond the bilingual, and those who are may not be thinking of the pros and cons of the two alternatives.

This week’s action plan: What would it take to add another language to your website? This week, look carefully at your target audiences and ask whether there is an important enough group to justify a translation. If you had to choose five languages, what would they be?

Marketing insight: One need not duplicate/triplicate an entire website. Consider making each language site a four to six page “microsite” to start, and expand from there. Even one page per extra language is a good start.

Postscript: Think a trilingual site is a challenge? How about 1200+ pages with 40 languages? Check out our work at http://www.peelschools.org/languages/Pages/default.aspx.

Randall Craig is author of seven books including Online PR and Social Media, Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Digital Transformation for Associations. He has been helping organizations rethink their approach to marketing and engagement using digital since 1994.




Membership, Website, Social Media


Marketing, Guest Contributor, Web / Technology



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