In a world where English is everywhere, is translation still important? Is it even necessary? English is the third most widely spoken language in terms of native speakers, being the first language of at least 330 million people. However, if you include the people who speak it as a second language, it is the most popular language in the world. So why is professional translation so important? Let us explain why translation is important and will continue to be so, despite the increasing ubiquity of English.
Translation is important because not everyone speaks English
English is clearly the most widely spoken language, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore everyone who doesn’t speak it! Even England is home to large populations of minority and foreign language speakers.
In addition, just because someone can speak a little English, that doesn’t mean that they can speak it well enough to cope in all situations. For example, a 2012 European Commission survey found that only a quarter of Europeans could understand English well enough to follow a news broadcast in English. Having a basic conversation is one thing. Easy and effective communication is quite another.
Translation is important because people prefer their mother tongue
English is the most widely spoken language, but only if you factor in second-language speakers. And therein lies the problem. Almost without exception, people react better to the language they grew up speaking.
To sell effectively, it is not enough to speak a language they understand (especially if their understanding is limited). You must speak to them in the language of their hearts.
Dale Carnegie may have been correct when he said: “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language”. However, the next sweetest sound is their native language. Babies aged up to 5 months have been shown to recognise and prefer it.
Adults also prefer it. A Common Sense Advisory study found that 75% of customers “prefer to buy products in their native language” and a study by JuxtConsult, the Indian market research firm, found that “almost three-quarters [of Indian consumers] prefer and search for content in their native language.”
Translation connects the global economy
There is a reason why the demand for translation services is booming. Although English has been called “the language of global business”, translation and interpretation services remain a vital part of business worldwide.
For example, 880,000 British small businesses are expected to expand abroad by 2025. It will be interesting to see how Brexit affects those plans. However, the need for translation services is unlikely to suffer too much.
Emerging markets mean emerging languages
English may be on top of the world right now, but that doesn’t mean it will stay there forever. Other languages are growing in importance as developing countries take their place in the global economy and more people gain access to the Internet. For example, most of the world’s web content used to be in English. That is no longer the case and there are already many who choose, for example, to translate their website into Spanish or German. So, the greater use of English does not threaten the work of professional translators.