Companies mostly strive to translate their homepage into several languages. Users take the provision of multilingual websites for granted, as we live in a globalized society. The question is why would companies invest their time, energy and money into translating website contents into several languages instead of publishing it in the one language spoken all over the world – English?
While traveling, we can often find ourselves smiling when we unexpectedly hear someone speak our native language. At home, we just want to hear and see something different, we want to go to exotic places and not under any circumstances meet other tourists of our own nationality. However, when spending a long time away from home, we are delighted when someone speaks our language; when we see the name of a cafe written down in our language; or when the waiter hands us the menu, which is obviously very much custom-tailored for tourists, in our language. It makes us feel connected and safe.
Well, in the virtual world, websites can be compared to foreign countries and the users with tourists. If we discover that the website we are visiting has content in our mother tongue, our interest increases, as well as our satisfaction due to the fact that the companies offering multilingual websites have recognized our needs. The more languages they offer, the better. On the surface level, it’s just about understanding the content. In that case, the source language and a translation into English would be enough. However, big companies provide their content in other languages as well and they have good reasons for doing so: except for the content itself, there is a surprising number of factors under the surface that influence the website’s effect.
Research has shown that our reactions are much more emotional when we are reading or listening to something in our native language compared to a foreign language. My Serbian teacher once told me, “Once you start arguing in Serbian, you have really acquired the language”. We are used to express our strongest emotions in our native language. It feels uncomfortable to swear, argue, love or express joy in another language you are not really fluent in. Even if we are fluent in the given foreign language, it is only the family context of learning our native language that carries the full range of human emotions, which is later mirrored by the difference in our emotional response to different languages.
Websites serve as an advertising tool for a specific product, company, or goal. Therefore, it serves not only to convey descriptions, explanations and background information, but to move us emotionally, thus creating a connection that will make us return, buy, call, and support. The different website sections represent little hotels on our journey through this “foreign country”, attracting our attention and tempting us to stay a little longer and visit them again if they manage to make us feel at home. This is what makes the emotional effect of a website the key factor of its success.
A research project by Puntoni et al. (2009) showed that advertising slogans were rated as much more emotional when they were written in the native language of the reader/spectator/listener. The emotional response of the audience was much higher. This is the effect we want to achieve with websites as well.
Another important finding is that 75 percent of customers do not make important purchase decisions unless the product description is in a language they can speak well. This is logical, but rarely comes to mind when setting up a website. Obviously, the buyer wants to understand every detail, not only the price and the “Enter credit card number” field.
The greatest problem, of course, is the financial aspect of having your website translated into as many languages as possible. This aspect cannot be denied. However, the immense advantages of doing so should be kept in mind. Namely, the profit is increased drastically when a website is available in just one extra language, which alone justifies the company’s initial investment.
What about websites with exclusively informative content? Websites about historical facts, for example. Well, sites like that also depend on the size of their audience, and the audience tends to remain interested and in a good mood when the site is also emotionally engaging. Websites are part of marketing and marketing is connected to our psyche and emotions.
So, instead of focusing primarily on the costs, working hours and statistics – why not look at our websites as “foreign countries”? Imagine how happy the tourists traveling through “your” country would be discovering the attractions and beauties that it has to offer in their own language.