Why Your Business Needs to Speak More than One Language

If you want to sell to customers, then you need to be able to communicate with them. Doing business with someone who does not speak your language, regardless of what end you are on, is often a frustrating experience. Have you ever traveled and tried to purchase a product from a local merchant that doesn’t speak English, but you cannot figure out what the price is? Not only is it irksome, but it can also be frightening, especially if it’s a non-luxury item you desperately need.

The United States population is becoming increasingly diverse, but not everyone who comes has had an opportunity to learn English beforehand. According to iLanguages, 43 percent of the world’s population is bilingual (and some are even trilingual or beyond), so even if you encounter consumers who understand you perfectly, speaking in one’s native tongue is arguably more comfortable, and it demonstrates good manners on the merchant’s part.

Willy Brandt, the former chancellor of West Germany famously said, “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.” The second part means, “then you must speak German.” You have a world of customers out there to reach, and you might provide something that no one else can, so do not let something like a language barrier prevent either of you from connecting.

Why it’s important

Aren’t you more inclined to trust someone you can understand? When you don’t know what someone is saying to you, you have no idea if they are scamming or taking advantage of you. If you comprehend a little bit, you still have to contemplate each word before you fully understand them, and then composing your response takes even more time. As a result, you may become so uncomfortable with the interaction that you move on—and the person selling to you is disappointed.

You do not want consumers to avoid you because you have not bothered to communicate with them in ways they can understand. People who do not speak English are not people you should ignore because you don’t feel like putting in the effort: not only is it compassionate to address someone in their own language but Hispanic folks in the United States, for instance, command $1.7 trillion in purchasing power. That number is higher than the gross domestic products of Australia, Spain, Canada, and Russia. They are an immense demographic that might be willing to buy from you—but you need to let them know that you are someone worthy of doing business with.

What brick-and-mortar businesses can do

If you are a small Mainstreet business in a small town, you probably don’t have to learn languages like Greek or Icelandic. You should, however, adapt your business to account for the non-English speakers in your area. It’s becoming increasingly essential to speak a bit of Spanish and Chinese (such as Cantonese and Mandarin), so brush up on your skills with Duolingo so that you can interact with customers who speak these tongues when they walk into your store.

A global transportation company named Lionsbridge surveyed over 200 international global business professionals, and 83 percent of them said that localization was a critical aspect of customer service. 67 percent also noted that localization contributed to facilitating overall brand consistency. Besides learning to speak the right phrases if not becoming entirely fluent, make sure your marketing materials are accessible to everyone in your area.

What e-commerce businesses can do

E-commerce businesses, or brick-and-mortar stores that also sell online, can reach a whole planet’s worth of people. If you run an online operation, you do not have the benefit of pointing or gesturing to fill in for the words in other languages that you do not know. You do have Google Translate, fortunately, so be sure to include text in a variety of other tongues than English, or go the extra mile and have different versions of your website for different speakers (or have different business Shopify stores for each market).

Google Translate is not perfect, so it is advisable that you contact a native speaker and ask them to review your written materials. A Common Sense Advisory Report states that 72.4 percent of worldwide consumers prefer to shop online in their own languages, and 55 percent of study participants claimed that they only purchase products from websites that include information in their native language.

Another reason you should include languages other than English: you can keep them alive. Many tongues are dying out, such as Native American languages like Shawnee and Panamint. Writing text on your website in one of these could prevent them from going extinct, all while reaching a unique demographic of consumers.

How will you communicate with customers who speak other languages?

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