How many languages should a website, brochure or manual be translated into? Obviously, the answer will depend on many factors including the size and nature of the target market, as well as various social, cultural and political considerations too!

Firstly, size matters. According to the respected Ethnologue website, there are nine languages in the world with over 100 million native speakers (Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese), and together these account for more than 40% of the world’s population!

However, it is not all about size. There are only a few hundred thousand speakers of Icelandic, yet manufacturers may feel obliged to offer this language for non-commercial reasons. Contrastingly, there are around 7 million Catalan speakers, yet their language is often overlooked. Partly this may be explained by the fact that the vast majority of them can also read Spanish.

This raises the question of whether it is sufficient to provide information in a language people can read and understand, or should it be available in the reader’s mother tongue? This issue concerns translations for domestic markets too; It’s not all about export. When considering texts to be used in Finland, for example, there are an ever-increasing number of tourists coming from more and more countries, notably from China and Japan. Maybe translating menus and brochures into English, Swedish and Russian is no longer enough.

Perhaps the most easily forgotten target group of all are the foreigners and Finns living in Finland whose mother tongue is neither Finnish nor Swedish. According to Statistics Finland, more than 10% of the populations of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa have a mother tongue other than Finnish or Swedish. That’s a sizeable market!