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What Are Long-Tailed Languages and Why Translate Them?

Each and every language is unique, regardless of the number of people who speak it, and targets a specific group of users. This is particularly true for the so-called “long-tailed” languages and the need to translate them.

The value of a document translated into the native language of the reader is much higher and so is the power of a company message addressed to its customers in their local tongue. Many companies have realized that their market share and respective profit will increase if they target different markets in the local language they use. This conclusion is also seen in a Common Sense Advisory (CSA) survey that reports that 60% of online shoppers never buy from English-only sites and are more likely to purchase your goods if they are described in their mother tongue.

In order to offer a better service and attract new customers, companies need to consider translating their websites into long-tailed languages as well.


What defines long-tailed languages?

It is essential to understand what stands behind the term “long-tailed” languages in order to have them properly translated.

As per Investopedia the term was first coined in 2004 by Chris Anderson and is mainly used in business and statistics. The basic long-tail concept considers less popular goods which are in lower demand. It was then broadened to cover other areas and is now used in translation and localization. It means that a very small proportion of languages are given priority when translating into a foreign language and the majority of the languages are left behind.

It is necessary to point out that the number of people speaking the given language is not a criterion for recognizing it as a long-tailed language. In this group fall languages such as Comanche language with less than 130 speakers in 2006, Hmong with nearly 310,000 users in the USA only in 2017, or Bengali, which is the 7th most spoken language in the world but still not part of the most common languages used for translation and localization.


Why does translating long-tailed languages matter?

As it is in business, where the idea of long-tailed products first emerged, long-tailed languages can turn out to be very profitable for companies that choose to translate their websites or product manuals, for example, into them.

The business practice shows that customers tend to deviate from mainstream products and look for less popular options instead. The same principle applies to languages. While the globalization of the world is inevitable and English is quite often regarded as lingua franca or the official global language, many people prefer to opt for a more customized treatment. They choose local goods and services offered in their native language. If a foreign company wants to penetrate such a market and win a share in it, its managers will have to speak the language of the locals. Their products and services will stand a better chance if presented in the local language despite the fact that it is not one of the languages commonly used worldwide.

A company that is ready to invest a bit more into its website localization, ads, product descriptions, technical document translation, and other essential documents into a long-tailed language stands a better chance of winning the exclusive loyalty of the group of customers it targets. Selecting a few less popular languages will make their brand stand out among the competitors and the investment in professional translation and localization services will pay off in the long term.

Furthermore, long-tailed communities are often virtually virgin markets that offer a chance of bonding with the locals almost without any competition.

While striving to offer a tailored service to their customers, companies should also consider maintaining at least one of the mainstream languages that are foreign to them in order to have a better position in the global market. That comes to say that there should not be any competition between long-tailed and popular language, on the contrary, they need to be properly combined to allow the business to achieve its goals.


How do you translate long-tailed languages properly?

We can sum up that it is important to translate long-tailed languages but it also bears certain risks if not properly done. In order to determine the best way to do it, a company needs to find the best translation and localization partner and build a sound strategy for the translation process that may include answering a few questions such as:

  • How many languages do you use on your website and/or in your paperwork at present?
  • How many long-tailed languages do you plan to add?
  • Which criteria do you use to classify the priority of the languages you choose for translation? Here you can consider language budged, current product/service users, potential customers, demographics, etc.
  • Do you have a translation management system (TMS) and are you willing to invest in one if not?
  • Are you planning to reduce any of the languages you already use or replace them? What is the business case behind that decision?
  • How do you prefer to secure your long-tailed language translations? Consider options such as freelance translators, multi-language vendors, full-time employees, neural machine translation, a combination of agency translation plus internal employee review, etc.

It is essential to make a well-informed decision and to plan the entire translation process in advance for any language and even more for long-tailed languages in order to avoid any pitfalls on the go. Note that such translation services may be more expensive as a result of the less popularity of the languages and the greater difficulty it may be to find well-educated and experienced translators to do the job.


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