English is the world’s most common second language, as statistics from the Ethnologue guide indicate. Although only about 370 million people speak English as a first language, nearly a billion more people learn English as a second, third, or fourth language. This fact makes it easy for a native English-speaker to assume that any content they create is able to be heard around the world. But this assumption overlooks the bigger picture.

English-language content might be accessible to a lot of people– but accessibility is a bare minimum. Accessibility is like a gated entrance; the people who can pass the gate have no guarantee that they will feel welcomed once inside. The people stuck behind the gate are altogether denied access to your message.

It requires much more than mere accessibility to truly engage with a global audience. Here’s why you have to go beyond the minimum… and a few simple ways you can get started.


The Language That We All Prefer (in Numbers)

The “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” series from CSA Research provides some useful statistics about the language preferences of Internet users. Their 2020 consumer survey was made available in 26 different languages. Their analysis compiles 8,709 responses from Internet users in 29 countries. 65% of users say that they prefer web content that is available in their native language. 40% of users will not buy products from websites written in another language.

If you think multilingual Internet users would be an exception to this trend, then think again. The European Commission’s 2011 Flash Eurobarometer indicates that 90% of EU citizens prefered to use websites available in their first language, even though many EU citizens are bilingual. Moreover, one 2008 study showed that multilingual people reacted most strongly to the phrase “I love you” when they heard it in their native language as opposed to a learned language.


Take it as a general rule that people connect more with content in their first language. Maybe scholarship and statistics seem a little too abstract, a little too impersonal. Statistics are wont to do that. Let’s move to a more personal example. Say, how about a quick story?


The Words to Use With Someone New

In “Rapport and Local Language,” the American anthropologist Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein tells a powerful anecdote from her field research. She and a colleague wanted to learn about the Highland Chontal language, which is spoken by several thousand people in Spain. To do so, they conducted Spanish-language interviews with Chontal speakers. 

One interviewee was an older woman who seemed “guarded” and withdrawn until Barchas-Lichtenstein’s colleague greeted the woman in Chontal. Then the woman’s whole demeanor changed. She smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the two anthropologists. 

The woman’s friendliness towards Barchas-Lichtenstein and her colleague did not diminish once they switched back to Spanish during the interview itself. She seemed delighted whenever Barchas-Lichtenstein mentioned a new Chontal word.  

Barchas-Lichtenstein’s usage of the Chontal language demonstrated her respect for the culture of Chontal speakers. This allowed her to form a kinship with the woman she interviewed. Barchas-Lichtenstein emphasizes her point with a well-chosen Nelson Mandela quote: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 


You needn’t be either an anthropologist like Barchas-Lichtenstein or a philanthropist like Mandella to show regard for someone else’s language needs. The next section discusses some easy ways you can begin.

The Right and Easy Ways to Reach Out

The best way to reach someone new is making an effort to connect with them on (and in) their own terms. That means you need to localize both your online content and your marketing approach in order to best suit your target audience. 

Localization is the process of adapting a text to suit the needs of a new, local audience. On one level, localization involves the straightforward translation of a text into the local audience’s language. It also considers what changes need to be made to the translated text so that it has the same impact on its audience as the original text.

If you want your online content to reach a new market, then learn what you can about the local audience there. Show interest in their needs, their culture, and their preferences. Use a language that they understand. Pick a medium and a message that resonates. 

You can begin the process of localization slowly and expand on it. As Barchas-Lichtenstein’s story demonstrates, a few familiar words with someone can give you a basis on which to build a working relationship with them. Maybe that means you first translate one part of your website to the target language. 67% of respondents to the aforementioned CSA survey say they will use a website that has text in multiple languages. Once you’ve translated the entire website, you can reach the other 33% of them.

Here’s one small job to start: 73% of web users want online product reviews to be available in their native language. Everyone likes a personal testimony. Amplify customer voices; give everyone who uses your website a platform to give their opinions.


All these suggestions may feel daunting, but you don’t need to begin the localization process on your own. Seek input from your audience. Or contract a company like Sauls to help you.

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