Happy European Day of Languages – now let’s talk content strategy, languages and localisation

local_lolcatOr should that be Félicitations or Feliz or Alles gute zum…? Or, since we’re blogging here and I just found a LOLcat translator: HAPPEH EUROPEAN DAI OV LANGUAGEZ!

If you don’t already know, Firehead is a content and communications recruitment specialist based in Europe. That means NOT assuming that people’s first language is English. It also means dealing both with clients who prioritise proficient language skills in their prospective employees, and candidates from different countries whose first language could be anything from French to Finnish, Spanish to Swedish, English to Estonian. (The language of internet kittens, LOLcat, has not been listed as a job requirement – yet.)

Firehead’s CEO, CJ Walker, speaks a number of different languages – she’s off being all multilingual in Geneva today so I can’t get hold of her to list them. My own second language is probably Indonesian, followed by schoolgirl French and German (so please forgive any mistakes in the intro). But the important thing about the annual European Day of Languages is to acknowledge that all our languages exist and to be open to different languages and cultures in our approaches.

This has never been more important than now when we can communicate globally via the internet, and in markets that cross borders and boundaries with touch-screen ease.

For example, until I attended Content Strategy Forum 2010 in Paris this April, I personally had little clue how important a part of the job language and localisation is for technical writers, content strategists and other web communicators in Europe. I was in awe of some of the attendees and the number of languages they had to deal with as part of their work.

The only previous web content conference I’d attended was SXSW Interactive in Texas. Despite the breadth of this conference, European markets weren’t particularly on the radar – though I believe that is changing for 2011. I was also living in a UK-based bubble where it is easy to write in English for a generic English-speaking audience, and to assume that that if readers understand the language, they will understand you.

I’m starting to realise how easy it is to become stuck in our own little online bubbles. Because while globalised readers may understand English, the experience is perhaps not one that they are comfortable or happy with and they are less likely to be persuaded by it than when reading content that has been ‘localised’ for them, not just linguistically but culturally.

So in honour of the European Day of Languages, I went searching for some interesting links for our content strategy and tech comms readers – and especially those readers from the UK and US who are interested in waking up to life outside their content zone:

  • Localization/Localisation at Content Strategy Forum 2010 – Ken Yau’s slideshow is here.
  • How Eurostar has cleverly tweaked its site to allow you to select a language different from your country of residence.
  • What website localisation means for content strategy – a useful seven-minute video slideshow.
  • 10 reasons to be kind to European content strategists – from accents to approval difficulties.
  • Self-evaluate your language skills with the European Day of Languages online game.

And finally, for those interested in learning a whole new kind of language, here is the LOLcat translator.

As always, I welcome your thoughts – is localisation on your radar, already part of your work process or just a distant hope?

Image: Polandeze via CC/Flickr.

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