How to Overcome Language Barriers When Hosting Global Events

Associations should think carefully about their strategy for translating when they launch events in different corners of the world.

Often, when associations are first thinking about “going global”—or extending their reach to another part of the world—they start out with an event. The stakes are perhaps a little bit lower with an event, especially when compared with other global strategies, such as launching a certification program or opening a satellite office.

But even if an association feels confident that an event is the best first venture into a new country, the barrier that languages pose in different parts of the world can be intimidating. I talked to Gina van Dijk, director of association management and consulting in Latin America for MCI Group, who offered a few considerations for associations dealing with language hurdles in their global events.

  1. Understand context. Since translation can be expensive, you also want to ensure that you’re translating the content or materials that are most locally relevant because what is perceived as valuable in the U.S. is not necessarily given the same value in other regions of the world.
  2. Understand proficiency. It’s important to understand exactly who your target audience is, van Dijk said, and then you can figure out their proficiency in English. Go through the exercise of asking how much more relevant your offering will be or how many people you will attract if you translate it in the local language or not—and this is going to be different based on the industry and on the country. For instance, van Dijk said: “If we look at Latin America—Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru—when organizations go global, maybe a few of the volunteers we deal with are well-versed in English, but not the majority.”

After associations have thought through local context and have a handle on the language proficiency or participants, they’ll want to consider the different parts of an event that might require translation, including the marketing materials, the registration process, and the actual content.

Marketing. Associations should think about joining with a local partner or an association management group to help with the marketing of their events, so they can ensure that they’re maintaining the correct tone and context in their communications, not to mention the correct language.

Registration. Associations want the registration process to be as easy as possible for their target audience, so they need to consider if translation will help with this. Other questions to consider include: “What if [registrants] have a question? Can they write an email in the local language? Can they call you in the local language? Do you have a team back at the headquarters that can take care of that? Or do you have a local office or a local association partner that can take those calls and those emails for you?” van Dijk said.

Event. The content is the most important part of any event, so associations need to give a lot of thought to what parts of the content should be translated into local languages, whether it’s simultaneous translation of speakers’ talks or the slide decks and other materials.

It’s important that associations “start out with an openness of understanding what are the pros and cons of maintaining everything in English or adapting part of that [to a different language],” van Dijk said.  “And that is the key message: Understand what you want to do and where translation or local language will help you be more successful.”

How have you hurdled the language barrier in your own global events? Please leave your comments below.

(erhui1979/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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