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Which language variations should you translate into?

Which languages, and language variations, should you translate your content into?

Which languages, and language variations, you translate your documentation into depends on your business objectives. This sounds straightforward enough, but the problem arises when you’re not sure whether your potential Chinese customers prefer Simplified or Traditional Chinese, say, or when your South American manager insists on having a localised, Latin American version of an mailing campaign which has already been translated into European Spanish.

If you’re only offering your content in English, that’s a good start! English is still the most widely used language online. However, multiple studies have shown that people prefer to buy products in their own language. So, if you are only offering your products in English you will limit your potential to expand. There are languages that are widely spoken, such as Spanish and Chinese — these are obvious choices. However, there are many countries, such as Canada, where two or more languages are widely spoken. If you only provide your content in one of those languages, this could lead potential customers to feel excluded. If a large percentage of the country are speaking a certain language, even if it isn’t an official language — such as Spanish in the USA — it can also be beneficial to translate into.

The greater your understanding of languages and language variations, the easier these challenges will be to address, and the best way to attain this understanding is by asking for professional advice from linguistic experts (your translation company) on the one hand, and your internal reviewer on the other. That said, the first step is to collect some data on your customers, and potential customers.

Research your market

  • For eCommerce, where are your customers based? Where are you delivering to?
  • At the point-of-sale, who are the people accessing your services or buying your products?
  • You can access this data from a POS system.
  • Check your website analytics to see where visitors are coming from.
  • Keyword research can be useful, to see in which language people are searching for products like yours.
  • If you are expanding into a new market, look for Census data to see which languages are widely spoken in that region.
  • Carry out competitor analysis, to see how many other companies are selling your products in those markets, and which languages they are using.

Consider, if you are already making sales in a country where you have not translated into their language, this means you already have a foothold in the market. Translating your content shows commitment to your customers, and will almost certainly give your sales a boost.

Find out more: Before you Start the Localisation Process

Common language variations

  • French: For France you will, of course, need standard French. However different variations of French are spoken in over 50 countries, such as Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Canada. Some African countries also speak their own variations, such as Mali, the Central African Republic and Senegal.
  • Spanish: For Spain you will need European Spanish. In Latin-America, they speak Latin-American Spanish. However, to further complicate matters, there are significant variations between Mexican, Argentinian and Cuban Spanish. And of course, don’t forget the many, many Spanish speakers in the USA.
  • Portuguese: There are two variations, European and Brazilian. Although Brazilian is far more widely spoken than the European version, if you are translating for both markets it is advisable to start with European Portuguese and then adapt for the Brazilian market.
  • Chinese: For Mainland China we advise standard Chinese with simplified script. It may be useful to adapt for Malaysia and Singapore as they use a local variation of standard Chinese. For Hong Kong and Macau we recommend Chinese (or Cantonese) using traditional script. For Taiwan, use Chinese for Taiwan (often referred to as Taiwanese Mandarin), using traditional script.

Find out more: Best Practices for Translating into Chinese

The practicalities

Once you are offering your products or services to a new market, it is vital that your company can accomodate the new customers, and offer a professional service. Consider:

  • Does your website accept payment in the local currency? 
  • Can you deliver to their address for a reasonable price, and in a reasonable time-frame? 
  • Consider using payment providers (such as PayPal) and local delivery services instead of international companies.
  • Do the name, address and telephone fields in all your forms accommodate local norms?


Always be sure your translator is a native-speaker of the language they translating into. Nuance, tone, and the appropriate level of formality are all vital to engage your customers and create the right impression. Bear in mind, that most people will consider their own language variation to be ‘correct’, ‘the most prestigious’ or ‘the most neutral’! Fortunately, for a broader and more objective perspective you can turn to a team of professional linguists.

Find out more: Transcreation: the next level of Localisation

Contact us for more information or a free consultation.

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