It is intriguing to notice that many organisations claim to be “international”, yet their website is available in English only. The myth that everyone speaks English is widespread amongst those English speakers who, interestingly enough, do not speak another language themselves. (I am yet to meet someone who can communicate in another tongue and still agrees with this statement.) This home-made cliché costs the UK £7.3bn each year in lost trade. Don’t be amongst the losers.
If you think that this is an expense you cannot afford, translation costs less than you probably think. In terms of return on investment, it could be an expense you cannot afford not to have. With English only, you will only ever attract clients who can speak that language very well. With a multilingual website, you show that you are ready to welcome clients from further afield – and is that not the very point of the internet?
One language alone could even help non-native speakers who are more comfortable in that language than in yours. When I went to Portugal, Spanish and French were more helpful than English. I have also seen a Spaniard and an Italian chat away happily together, each in their mother tongue. (Both could actually speak acceptable English, but clearly it worked better for them that way.) It’s about finding a common or easy enough vehicle for communication between your business and as much of the outside world as you can.
Displaying various languages on your web pages can also give your business image a boost. Better than any claim of being “global” hidden here and there in the text, it gives your organisation an international feel and highlights your broader reach. This can make a greater impression on clients, future working partners and possible investors, thus generating more business and/or stronger financial support.
There is also a simple argument for going multilingual: we all buy on trust. If we do not understand, we cannot trust; if we do not trust, we will not buy. So to expect clients to make a linguistic effort goes against business sense. As a business, how much do you want their custom? As a client, how much do you want to buy from an “international” company that doesn’t speak your language or at least one you can understand? As Willy Brandt famously put it, “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen”.