2M Update – Why translations, and what’s in it for your organisation?

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“It is a bit like preaching to the converted,” said Pino Migliorino, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, casually during his inviting opening address to FECCA 2013.  The conference, held by FECCA in conjunction with the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland (ECCQ) and the Multicultural Communities Council Gold Coast (MCCGC) last month on the Gold Coast, brought together over 400 leading decision makers, thinkers and practitioners who discussed key issues relating to Australia’s cultural and linguistic diversity. 2M took part as a Silver Sponsor, being present with a company booth in the exhibition area, and myself attending various plenary presentations and panel sessions as a delegate.

With his little comment, Pino certainly had a point – many of the delegates probably did not need convincing when it comes to “breaking down barriers”. However, the conference succeeded in answering a multitude of needs, and on a few occasions, I found myself sitting in the rooms wishing that our clients – also our exporting clients – could benefit from all the valuable insights as well.

So, why not share some of them with you here? Whilst the conference was all about “in-country”, I believe that our exporters, too, will be able to relate much of what follows to their target audiences and field, and to extract some useful pointers. Where we have previously talked about HOW to go about translating for multicultural Australia and for export markets, today, inspired by FECCA 2013, some answers to questions that are often put to our team in discussions and more relate to the WHY.

Don’t most LOTE (Language Other Than English) speakers in our country know enough English anyway?

We know the stats: Since 1945, more than 7 million migrants have made Australia their home, and 45% of our population have been born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. Whilst many certainly do know English, learning the language takes time. Even migrants who have been here longer often continue to speak their native language at home and/or within their CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities, and they don’t have the same proficiency in English.

So, questions to be considered here are: Does your target audience have sufficient English skills to understand not only possibly quite technical content, but also subtleties, metaphors or whatever else you are using to get the message fully across? Remember our favourite Nelson Mandela quote – we want to not only speak to their head, but also to their heart.

Why should we invest in translation? Newcomers to our country should learn our language!

Many migrants certainly already have, or do; various English learning programs for LOTE speakers are on offer and being used. But again – to reach a proficient level takes time. Another thing to keep in mind is that migrants who come to live here don’t only bring skills or material values, but also a lot of memories from their home, and a deeply entrenched cultural background. I’d like to quote here from the address by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells: “Newcomers to this country are not expected to surrender their heritage, but they are expected to surrender their hatreds.” Culture is something that we cannot expect to just be forgotten. If we want to reach our audiences successfully, using the language that they are most familiar with is the most direct and effective way.

Where do I find figures for my geographical area?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) offers a range of reports on numbers of people in Australia who have been born overseas on their website www.abs.gov.au. One particularly useful and free search function is provided through QuickStats by Country of Birth, where one can select a country of birth and further refine the search to obtain results for defined geographical areas within Australia.

On State and local levels, Ethnic Communities’ Councils, Departments of Multicultural Affairs and Multicultural Ambassadors can most likely also assist with diversity figures for their particular areas.

What’s in it for us?

A number of FECCA speakers emphasised that Australia’s cultural diversity is an asset; it brings to us a “knowledge of markets” and is a “source of economic strength” (Senator Fierravanti-Wells), a “competitive edge in an international business world” and “benefits economic development” (the Hon Glen Elmes, QLD Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs). By providing translations for multicultural Australians, we help to increase their understanding of Australian business and life and thus help maximise these benefits for our economy.

Moreover, information provided on a product or service in one or more foreign languages will also be a driver for its acceptance and sales. Research in Europe and the North Americas has shown for example that online visitors stay twice as long on websites that offer content in their native tongues; that businesses are three times as likely to buy when addressed in their native language; and that high quality translations enhance an organisation’s brand image.

Talking about acceptance – how do we know if we are reaching our target audience?

There are a number of key indicators you can measure. One is of course your sales figures, after you have targeted a particular geographical area with a strong CALD population. Other ways may be: Analyse your visits to foreign-languages web pages that may have become part of your website, and track the increase in received enquiries; check the circulation figures of ethnic newspapers in which you may have placed adverts, and the resulting response. A further measurable indicator might be a drop in customer service costs, because users of your product or service have been provided with instructions in their own language.

One encouraging example of high acceptance that was presented at the FECCA was by the Department of Human Services which reported a high percentage of CALD customer registrations for self-managed services.

Last but not least, another method is to undertake focus group testing or community consultations, where feedback on your translated material is collected by way of targeted, specific questions to pre-defined groups. Don’t hesitate to contact the 2M Team to assist with this!

As you can see, much was to be taken away from FECCA 2013. We don’t regret one bit having been part of it, and already look forward to the next conference!

Written by Susanne Creak, General Manager at 2M Language Services.

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