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4 hacks on how to choose languages for your multilingual campaign

Communicating with your target audience in their preferred language can be a powerful way to connect and cut through barriers. Choosing the languages, however, can be challenging.

1 Where do they live?

Knowing where your target audience lives will help you find out what languages they speak.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ website is a goldmine of information (from the 2016 national census). Their data has been analysed by geographic areas. Visit the ABS website and enter the name of the state, capital city, suburb or even electorate. The data by region page is useful, as well as the QuickStats search function. You can also contact the ABS directly for help or to request customised data.

Other government agencies, such as the Department of Home Affairs, also collect and analyse data about peoples’ language preferences. Many local councils have done a detailed analysis of the languages spoken in their community. This information is can be easily found by searching online.

2 Where do they come from?

If you know what countries your target audiences come from, you can narrow down what languages they speak.

The Department of Home Affairs created community information summaries based on the 2016 census. The summaries include information about the languages spoken by Australian residents with over 100 countries of birth.

Once you know what countries your target audience is from, some deeper considerations need to be made.

There are national variations of different languages. The Spanish spoken in Spain, for example, has differences to the Spanish spoken in Mexica. If you really want to impress your target audience, tell the translation company what nationality you’re targeting. They may be able to find a translator from there or who is familiar with the local lexicon.

Remember, if possible, to also check what part of the country your target audiences come from. The main language spoken in India, for example, varies in different parts of the country.

3 Where do they get information?

How you communicate with people is just as important as what you say. Consider a variety of channels including digital and traditional such as in-language radio and newspapers.

You could even engage your target audience face-to-face, or collect information about their language preferences and what information channels they use. Individual community members can also be highly influential and willing to share information, such as local leaders or online influencers (for example, Key Opinion Leaders, KOLs, are often used on Chinese social media).

Some languages are not traditionally written (such as Aboriginal languages in Australia) or have limited character sets supported by computer software and hardware. In these cases, you might need to get creative with audio-visual channels such as radio or video.

If you’re using a media buying agency, they should be able to advise you of the reach of each language on various channels. Your target audience might be consuming content from their home country online.

Facebook, for example, might not be the most effective way to reach audiences in mainland China, as it’s banned there. Roy Morgan’s Single Source research collects data from over 50,000 people annually to identify consumer behaviours. It includes segments for people from over 40 language groups.

4 A failure to plan is a plan for failure

A successful multilingual campaign, like any project, requires good forward planning. You need to allow enough time, budget and resources to establish, execute and evaluate your campaign.

Be clear about why you’re publishing multi-lingual information. Obviously, some people need information in other languages because they speak little to no English. It’s also a legal requirement in some circumstances to provide professional translation or interpreting services. The Victorian State Government policy, for example, is to provide these services when a person is making a significant life decision, being informed of their rights or if they are being given essential information.

You also need to plan for what they will do once they’ve received your information. If people ask questions in their language, how will you respond? There may be people in your organisation who speak that language, the interaction could be facilitated by machine translation, an interpreter or further translated materials might be needed.

Will the information need to be updated? If so, how often? Make sure you allow enough time and budget to ensure all language versions of your materials are kept up-to-date.

If your budget is limited and you need to make some tough decisions, consider how well your target audience understands English. Many Indian-Australians, for example, would be proficient in English as well as their mother tongue. People from mainland China, however, might be less likely to have high English language proficiency. Statistics on English language proficiency are available for different language groups via the ABS census data.

The golden rule is: the better you understand your target audience, the better they’ll understand your message. Investing the time to choose languages that best fit your purpose will increase the success of your multilingual campaign.


Written by Sophia Dickinson, LEXIGO: Sophia is a writer and communications consultant with 10 years’ experience in the public service and not-for-profit sectors. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish). Read more about her experiences here.