"If you can't explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself". A familiar quote of Albert Einstein, albeit there appears to be no clear attributions that Einstein had said it in that manner.

Scholars have indicated reference to a 1962 book 'New Perspectives in Physics' where the author stated that Einstein, when discussing theories on physics, had commented that "one ought to lend themselves to so simple of a description that even a child could understand...".

Einstein considers most of the fundamental ideas on science to be essentially something simple to explain, that as a rule of thumb, should be expressed in a language that is comprehensible to everyone. Perhaps to paraphrase, Einstein meant that "If you can't explain it simple enough, it means that you yourself do not understand it well enough."

Regardless of how Einstein had actually said it, there is truth when it concerns badly or failed translations. Besides the inadequacy in linguistic skills, a common attribution is the translation team's inability to fully comprehend the source content, in essence or in entirety.

In the business world, this can lead to very damaging consequences when translations go awry. Read 'Lost In Translation' to understand about the main causes.

Comprehensible Content in Any Language Is Vital for Global Marketers

Understandably, every form of publicity information or marketing content has to be conveyed clearly and concisely.

For the benefit of readers, it's imperative that we address word-meanings in 'plain speak', avoid incongruence and to anticipate effective delivery of easy-to-comprehend sentences - in whatever is the reader's native language.

When it concerns localisation of your marketing speak, the main goal of Language Service Providers (LSPs) is to understand the subject well enough to CLEARLY articulate about the background, approach, challenges or alternatives, and most importantly, the value proposition of what's being conveyed... to be able to reach out and to effectively connect with the target audience.

This does not mean that we try to explain what we might know about 'Quantum Physics to a six-year old'... which is impossible.

But it does mean that marketing messages, intended for dissemination in whichever countries, ought to be effectively transmitted according to the reader's vernacular background and unique native cultural mindset.

In a nutshell, to translate and localize information into whatever languages, one must first absorb and fully understand what the writer of the source content implies or tries to evoke.

Only then can the final localized version generate an accurate representation that is effectively comprehensible, equally meaningful, and without losing sight of the intended purpose or confusing to the reader.

English Is No Longer the World's No 1 Language

It is a stark reminder that amongst the world's inhabitants of 7.7 billion, only 1.5 billion (or about 20%) are anglophones. When we rule out non-native English speakers, this goes down to about 360 million.

On the other hand, there are over a billion native-Chinese speakers, over 420 million native-Hindi speakers, 400 million native-Spanish speakers and about 400 million who are native-Arabic speakers.

To understand the importance of non-English speaking consumers, Worldpay, a leading provider of payment solutions across multi-channels and platforms, released relevant details in its 'Global Payment Report' in November 2018.

A key highlight in that report is the significance of wide-spread and rapidly increasing online transactions performed by buyers representing a diversity of cultures and economies of the world.

Primary Human Language Families Map-By PiMaster3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.png

For businesses wanting to engage with the masses of millennial generation customers around the world, two factors that should not be ignored - 'overcoming the language barrier'and 'providing digital mode for transactions and online payments'.

Did you know that...

  • The value of global e-commerce in 2017 surged to USD29 trillion? The numbers are also expected to exceed USD$30 trillion by 2020.
  • 1% of the world's consumers spend most or all of their time browsing websites in their own language?
  • 70% of the world's Internet users do not use English for their online search?

In other words, there are millions of consumers around the world, especially from major Asian outbound travellers' markets, who are capitalizing on the convenience of online shopping or buying (browsing, checking for details, transacting and paying).

From purchasing airline tickets, reservation for accommodations, bookings for health and wellness treatments, inbound tours, vehicle rentals, entertainment or sporting events, etc., all from the comfort of their home or from their mobile devices.

Can't Read, Won't Buy

It's an age-old adage in creative copywriting as well as a typical gesticulation swear by marketers. Can't read, won't buy literally speaks volume on unsuccessful global marketing campaigns in whatever languages that failed to entice for a call-to-action (CTA).

Simply put, if customers do not understand your marketing messages, or what your brand stands for, or worse of all, what you're selling, chances are they are less likely to be attracted or buying your product or service.

The tourism industry is undoubtedly the most widely transacted service-oriented sector that enjoys the constant patronage of multi-ethnic customers from every parts of the world.

But it's also very competitive.

In this Internet age, this puts pressure on global marketers of travel, hotel, lifestyle, retail and hospitality businesses.

It is the need to constantly generate online marketing campaigns to non-English speaking audiences, especially in major source tourist markets such as, in China, the Middle East, etc.

Whether they are from a large chain hotel or a proprietary business, it is so imperative to have consistent and effectively written content in various languages, in order to attract new customers as well as to retain regular guests.

Good Content Matters, in Any Languages

Findings by researchers seem to indicate that consumers consider price and performance being more important than information that they can understand. While some surveys have also indicated that well-known global brands are less affected by the customer's need to understand the language of its promotional content.

Those surveys on consumers' purchasing habits were more likely focusing on why people say 'yes', rather than looking for their 'no' answers.

The fact that these researchers themselves mentioned that the majority would prefer to shop in a language that they can understand.

Doesn't this then dispel the notion that price, performance or brand is more important than language?

To substantiate, we can refer to Shopify Plus's article on 'Global Ecommerce Statistics and Trends' published in Feb 2019.

In reaching out to international consumers, Local language does matters most, as reiterated in that article.


Image by Common Sense Advisory.

Companies marketing to native customers around the world should rely on Transcreation (translations infused with creative editing) or in simpler terms, Creative Translation.

We need transcreation to help instil character and emotion in publicity or branding messages that are being localised for foreign markets.

Transcreation is the most cost-effective and surest way to improve customer experience, or to increase call-to-action in the international marketplace:

  • For global businesses, content transcreation should be planned as part of their customer purchasing strategy.
  • In marketing to audiences in native countries, deployment of multilingual content should be part of the customer engagement processes.

Undoubtedly, generating content in local languages is imperative for hoteliers or various hospitality businesses competing for consistent growth in multicultural markets. This should be their cultivated, planned and executed content marketing strategy.

Why Can Read, But Still Won't Buy?

This calls to mind of a quote supposedly attributed to Einstein too, "Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler". Apparently, this was also argued by learned people who considered it likely to be a paraphrase referring to what Einstein had meant to say.

Taking a leaf from the debate to understand more about what Einstein had meant to say concerning 'making things as simple as possible, but no simpler', we reflect on this statement 'why can read, but still won't buy?' - which is very likely the result of an ineffective localised content marketing strategy to target audiences in native-language speaking countries.

In this case, was it an overdone in trying to fulfil the simplicity in expression for the localised language version? Did they insist on accuracies and details while obscuring the clarity of the intended message, thus failing to motivate and connect with their target clientele?

For translation project teams or LSPs, the fundamental objective is to create localised language content that readers can comfortably understand and interact with, whilst at the same time, not faulted by experts on the topic.

Making sure to meet both the vernacular and cultural-mindset of your target readers are of utmost importance.

In other words, the priority is to provide translated versions that are engaging and reader-friendly. It does not need to be of relevance to the readership of the original source content, whichever is the language that the localised version was created from.