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Localizing Long-Tail Languages

Know the Risks. Earn the Rewards.

More and more, companies are recognizing the power of reaching global consumers by connecting with them in their preferred language. A 2014 Common Sense Advisory (CSA) survey reports 75% of global consumers are more likely to purchase your product when it’s presented to them in their native language.  “Long-tail,” or less-localized, languages are no exception. Localization into long-tail languages is a powerful opportunity to expand your brand-reach beyond traditional markets. But it’s not without its risks.

Those risks are why it’s important to partner with a Language Services Provider (LSP) that understands and has a tested, practical approach to dealing with them. After more than 20 years in the business, Lionbridge has the breadth and depth of experience to make your content resonate across more than 300 languages—of all shapes and sizes.

What is a Long-Tail Language?

The term “long-tail” was adapted from a business and statistics context and introduced into the world of localization. It refers to the reality that a small number of languages are given disproportionate attention, leaving others underrepresented as companies translate and localize their offerings.

Because the term “long-tail” can refer to any “less frequently localized” language, they come in a range of sizes and from all locations. Consider Blackfoot, an indigenous North American language with 2,920 speakers, compared to Bengali, the 7th most widely spoken language in the world. Both of these languages fall outside the top 50 most localized languages.

The sheer number and diversity of long-tail languages makes localizing into them a complex and demanding task. Their specific challenges require extraordinary project management and specialized resources. With these qualities at the forefront of the Lionbridge offering, a partnership with our team means less risk, and more reward.

Why Localize for Long-Tail Languages?

Harness the value of expanding into untapped markets.

  • First-mover advantage: By definition, these less localized markets have been largely untouched by any competitor. Long-tail communities represent an opportunity to move in and to make meaningful connections with virtually untapped markets.
  • Gateway to other markets: Localizing into new languages can open a door to communicate with a wider community speaking the same language. Case in point: Swahili has been adopted as a universal means of communication in Africa. Localizing into Swahili means connecting with its 16 million native speakers as well as the 82 million Africans who speak it as a second language.
  • Better conversion: Despite the growth of English as a lingua franca, CSA finds that 60% of global consumers rarely or never buy from English-only websites. Opting for translated material in your customers’ language of choice means they are more likely to understand—and more likely to purchase—your product.

What are the Risks?

The challenges associated with translating long-tail languages are a major deciding factor for why fewer companies localize into them. Recognizing these challenges—and having a protocol for dealing with them—can not only mitigate the risks, but also clear the path for you to connect prudently and productively, with highly specialized customer bases. From our experience we’ve outlined a few key risks associated with long-tail localization:

Lack of relevant terminology

A primary risk for your business to consider when localizing into long-tail languages is the linguistic capacity of the language itself. If your product or service is new to the market, it is possible that they haven’t developed the vocabulary associated with your industry. In this case, the terminology will need to be adapted from another language or created from scratch. For Swahili, the arrival of new technology in the early 2000s brought a demand for new terminology. Words like “log-off” and “log-on” were developed to account for this new computer-based vocabulary. This borrowing process is similar to the use of technology words like email and computer that are sometimes simply adopted in their English forms rather than translating into a new word.

Absence of local translators

The average age, number and literacy rate of a population all factor into how difficult it is to find local translators. For example, Quechua has approximately seven million speakers, but much of that population is not literate in Quechua. When faced with these challenges, Lionbridge can leverage and establish partnerships with local universities and language authorities to ensure the success of projects.

Technological limitations

Some remote locations have little to no internet access. In Nigeria, members of the Lionbridge translation community drove hundreds of miles on a weekly basis in order to exchange information and collect files from translators. Translation companies must factor these limitations into their localization strategy to streamline workflow and maintain the quality of the product.

Challenging environmental conditions

At times, the reality of working in countries with less localized languages means confronting certain environmental risks. These populations might be more susceptible to political instability or lack the infrastructure to recover from natural disasters. Being aware of these risks and having a strategy for how to deal with them is the key to successful localization and entry into these markets.

How can an LSP Mitigate Those Risks?

A great LSP is resourceful and has extensive risk management experience. Four qualities stand out when assessing the capability of an LSP to handle the risks of long-tail language localization:

#1 Deep experience

Do they have a track record of successfully carrying out localization projects into long-tailed languages?

#2 Global scale

Have they established a wide-reaching network that can connect you with translators and localization resources within your target market?

#3 Extraordinary project management

Do they have dedicated internal project management teams prepared to face any challenges? With the risks involved with localizing into long-tail languages problems are bound to arise—do they have an anticipatory attitude and necessary protocols in place?

#4 Best-in-class technological capabilities

Can they offer the tools and training services necessary to produce quality and efficient translations, despite the risk?

How Can Lionbridge Help?

Experience. Expertise. Scale. Pair these qualities with our highly advanced technology—and Lionbridge is a perfect partner for long-tail localization. Since 1996, we’ve cultivated translation services for over 300 languages. Whether your localization intentions are short- or long-tail, we have assessed the risks, and can find a solution. Take a look at Canon’s success when we helped them localize across 55 markets.

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Sophia Eakins and Kajetan Malinowski
Sophia Eakins and Kajetan Malinowski