5 reasons to stop treating Spanish as a foreign language


Alain J. Roy, CEO of ASTA-USA Translation Services, INC.

In 1980, approximately 23.1 million people in America spoke a language other than English (LOTE), according to a US Census Bureau report. This number tripled in 2019 to an astonishing 67.8 million people. While several languages ​​make up this statistic, with Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Arabic ranking high, Spanish significantly surpasses them all, making up 61% of all LOTE speakers.

While English remains the primary language, it is crucial to note that at the federal level, the United States has no official language. Unlike other countries that simply embrace multiculturalism, the utopian dream in America has always been to create a melting pot where all cultures merge and assimilate to create a unique, diverse, and robust nation. While digging deep into the population will actually reveal heterogeneity supporting the US Census Bureau’s language statistics, a look at the company records, marketing materials, employment contracts, and employee handbooks within most organizations would lead one to believe otherwise.

For example, companies generally tend to reserve investment in language services for international business transactions or market expansion. In fact, translation and localization are absolutely necessary to successfully penetrate new foreign markets, but they are also relevant to a company’s performance in the domestic market.

However, there are five crucial reasons to stop treating Spanish as a foreign language:


A preference for one’s native language

Research has repeatedly shown that consumers prefer to buy products or services if they are offered information in their native language. As much as 80% of consumers surveyed by CSA Analytics indicated they preferred a personalized experience when shopping, while 55% simply stated that if they can’t read it, they won’t buy it.

With nearly 70 million non-English speaking individuals in the domestic market, failure to translate product, service or marketing information into other languages ​​quickly causes approximately 38.5 million potential customers to disappear. Similarly, a small investment in language services can generate huge ROI by re-introducing these potential customers to a brand, product or service to which they are more receptive.

Greater brand awareness

Competition is a given in any industry and identifying and expressing the benefits of one product or service is one of the most challenging aspects of the marketing world. Offering translated marketing materials, products/services or other information positions a brand as more inclusive and diverse than brands that do not invest in language services.

Likewise, it offers a greater benefit to digital marketing efforts such as Search Engine Optimization (or SEO). Renowned digital marketing expert Neil Patel reports that his web traffic has increased by a whopping 47% by translating the content. This is because countries like China and India have much more internet traffic than the United States and other countries like Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia also have significant levels.

Of course, these users will use their native language to surf the web, and the websites they visit will use keywords in their respective languages. Business websites in America are usually only optimized for English keywords, which means they are missing out on millions of potential web visitors, both nationally and internationally. When web content is translated; however, the website and thus the brand appear on SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for keywords in other languages.

More confidence and improved UX

In addition to those who speak a LOTE and express a desire to read product or service information in their native language, a business that meets these needs goes far beyond sales. When consumers see that a company has taken the time and thought to translate its materials into Spanish or other language(s), it immediately positions the company as thoughtful, diverse, and inclusive. In addition, having access to information in their native language usually results in overalls better user experience. This lends itself to brand loyalty and builds trust among the LOTE speaking community.

Broader appeal as a strategic business partner

Potential domestic customers are not the only ones reached when translating content into Spanish or other languages ​​commonly used in the Americas. For example, Hispanic investors may notice an organization that focuses on their native language, or partnerships may develop between cultural associations and a culturally inclusive brand.

Perhaps more intriguingly, organizations are not limited to working with English-speaking experts and professionals when language services are available. This means they can attract the best talent or leverage the most acclaimed vendors or service providers in the world, no matter what language they speak.

Limited risks in the workplace

LOTE speaking individuals in America are active members of the workforce. Despite this, many companies fail to provide translated materials to employees who do not speak English as their primary language. While they may understand the basics, language barriers in the workplace putting these workers at a much higher risk of accidents, injuries or errors. By providing information in their native language, these risks can be mitigated. Companies should also take into account that the Occupational safety and health administrationor OSHA, does not require employees to be trained in English, but rather with information they understand.

By recognizing and embracing the fact that millions of Americans speak Spanish or another LOTE, companies can unlock their full potential in the domestic market. From reaching a wider audience to better SEO and user experiences, forging more strategic alliances and mitigating risk in the workplace, the benefits are all-encompassing. And reaping these benefits only takes one small shift: stop treating Spanish as a foreign language and embrace LOTE speakers as a valid market segment in the US.

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