English is the most widely taught second language around the world. However, new research from Common Sense Advisory has confirmed that even when people are confident speaking English as a second language, they feel more comfortable buying products with labels and instructions in their own language. Although that may seem, like…well, common sense, many businesses don’t think they can justify the increased costs of translating products in areas where most people speak English as a second language.
The research focused on business software, interviewing 351 customers from non-English speaking countries. Of that sample, 80% could speak English as a second language well enough to understand the information provided about the software. However, almost all of the people interviewed were more likely to buy software that “speaks their language,” where both product information and the software interface have been translated. More than 80% wouldn’t fully consider products that were marketed only in English, and 1 out of 6 people surveyed wouldn’t consider buying an English-only product, period.
At least for software, translation seems to be a strong driver for sales. This seems like a no-brainer when you really stop to think about it. After all, no matter how fluent you become in your second language, you’ll always be a little more comfortable using your mother tongue. Software manuals are not exactly light reading, anyway-why would you want to make the effort of translating them to yourself? Most people spend as little time reading software manuals as they can possibly get away with!
However, it’s reasonable to assume that this effect extends beyond software, too. Having material translated into the local languages of your customers signals that you care about those customers, that you’re aiming your product for people who live where they live and speak the language they grew up speaking. No matter what you sell, your customers are more likely to buy it if they feel like it’s aimed at them. At any rate, this study is significant because it questions common business assumptions about the importance of localizing products.