A Marketer’s Dilemma: To Translate or Not to Translate - New Canadian Media

A Marketer’s Dilemma: To Translate or Not to Translate

Being the Operations Manager of an immigrant-serving agency, my portfolio includes a wide variety of disciplines, including marketing and communications. One of the most basic…

Being the Operations Manager of an immigrant-serving agency, my portfolio includes a wide variety of disciplines, including marketing and communications. One of the most basic principles of marketing is to know your audience and to develop your material based on that targeted demographic and/or psychographic.

Working with a target audience from literally every corner and region of the world brings its own unique set of challenges and often forces us to consider our communication style and material.

Census figures show that the three top migration groups arriving in Calgary are from India, China and the Philippines. Anecdotally speaking, a large percentage of immigrants from the Philippines speak very good English due to the American influence in their home country, so translation is often not as critical as it might be with other newcomers.

A recent review of our intake statistics (April 2014-August 2014 iCARE report) shows that while we do provide services to newcomers from the Philippines (top country of origin), our highest percentage of population (in descending order) are from the following countries:

  1. Iran
  2. India
  3. Ethiopia
  4. Nigeria
  5. Kenya
  6. Republic of South Africa

Many of the African countries are home to numerous dialects and language variances, which creates even further challenges and considerations for those of us in marketing.

Unique challenge

As the only Calgary-based agency responsible for refugees destined for our city, we regularly see these wide fluctuations in countries of origin. In addition, our agency offers support for virtually every age group, lifestyle and newcomer designation — from foreign trained professionals, to immigrant youth, to children and babies.

Since it is our mission to resettle and integrate newcomers into Canadian society and have them contributing to our country’s success, an argument could be made that since English is the primary language in our area, all our material should be published in English. However, if we review the marketing principle as stated earlier, what is our obligation to provide material for a target audience in a variety of languages? And, if we did that, would we be able to find individuals with strong enough language skills to provide the translation? Languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Spanish and others are certainly easier to facilitate than Tigrinya, Karen, Swahili and Oromo.

Languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Spanish and others are certainly easier to facilitate than Tigrinya, Karen, Swahili and Oromo.

To compound this dilemma, translation of documents necessarily means additional cost and resources, funds that may not be readily available to a not-for-profit organization. However, we try our best by incorporating more pictures in our material so the words make sense in the context of the photo, we have taken great care to simplify the words we use, and we try to remove all those funny little sayings or idioms that make good sense to most Canadians, but surely not to newcomers. But, it will always be a work- in-progress. 

As we are funded as an English-speaking agency, and provide English language instruction to our clients, we provide the vast majority of our written material, including our website, Facebook page, Twitter accounts, brochures and posters in just one language, English. We do this in the hope and belief that as newcomers integrate and become comfortable in their new home, their knowledge and comfort level of the English language will grow as well.

What do you think: To translate or not to translate?


Patricia Gallagher is currently the Operations Manager at Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) in Calgary.  Prior to that she spent 30+ years in radio and television broadcasting as a production and marketing manager.  She can be contacted via e-mail at pgallagher@ccis-calgary.ab.ca.