Gotta Catch ‘Em All: Your Entire Audience, that is

There are approximately 320 million people living in the U.S. How many of those people are in your target audience?

We typically begin this exercise (of defining your ideal customer) by describing (and giving identity to) one representative within that customer profile.

But then what?

Consider your business model, demand structure, logistics, costs and revenue to help you narrow down your audience from the initial 320 million possibilities and bring your real audience into focus.

With translation projects, be mindful in choosing the language in which you will address this target. Your initial thought may be, “Everyone in my target audience speaks English”—which may be true, but how well do the members of your target audience navigate English compared to their first language?

In my social media post earlier this month, I shared information about the different levels of bilingualism–from receptive bilinguals to equilinguals. Just think how much more impactful your message may be if it were translated in your audience’s native tongue.

I grew up in the Italian part of Switzerland, with German parents who emigrated there when I was four years old. My parents only spoke German to me and I learned Italian in kindergarten. I always spoke it outside the house from then on. Despite being truly equilingual (and enjoying Italian’s melodic linguistic sounds and generous vowel use), German is the language that awakens the emotions of comfort and safety in me.

So that begs the questions:

If you have bilinguals in your target audience, what language do you choose to address them?

Is it worthwhile to pursue document translation?

Here are four key factors to consider when making that decision:

  1. Your ideal customers: their age, education, origin, and if from outside the U.S., where do they fall on the bilingual spectrum? For true equilinguals you may be able to skip the translation process, but translation is recommended for receptive bilinguals.
  2. The products you are selling: how complex are they, and how regulated is the market? Is the transaction business-to-consumer or business-to-business? What is the cost and pricing structure of your products? The more complex, regulated, and expensive the product, the greater the need for translation of your documentation into a variety of languages.
  3. The competition: how much competition is there for your products? Would translation of your documents provide you with a competitive advantage?
  4. The type of documents and files involved:
  • User manuals are typically translated into a variety of languages to ensure an optimal user experience.
  • Advertising: when translating advertisements, engage an experienced linguist to avoid incomplete or culturally insensitive phrases.
  • Websites and longer files: depending on your product and market segmentation, you may choose to translate key sections—such as select pages of your website or only the information relating to your top selling products or services, whether they are sold via e-commerce or other distribution channels.


When addressing your U.S. audience, consider these numbers to provide linguistic perspective.

Language representation in the Unites States:

1.       English – 230 million 2.       Spanish – 37.58 million
3.       Chinese – 2.88 million 4.       French – 1.30 million + 750,000 French Creole
5.       Tagalog – 1.59 million 6.       Vietnamese – 1.41 million
7.       Korean – 1.14 million 8.       German – 1.08 million
9.       Arabic – 951,700 10.   Russian – 905,800
11.   Other Indic languages – 815,345 (Includes PunjabiBengaliMarathi) 12.   Italian – 723,600
13.   Portuguese – 673,500 14.   Hindi – 648,900
15.   Polish – 607,500 16.   Japanese – 436,100
17.   Persian – 407,600 18.   Urdu – 373,800
19.   Gujarati – 358,400 20.   Greek – 304,900
21.   Serbo-Croatian – 269,600 22.   Armenian – 246,900
23.   Hebrew – 216,300 24.   Khmer – 212,500
25.   Hmong – 211,200 26.   Navajo – 169,300
27.   Thai – 163,200 28.   Yiddish – 160,900
29.   Laotian – 140,900 30.   Tamil – 132,573
31.   American Sign Language – ~100,000

(Data from the 2011 US Census Bureau. These are the main languages spoken. In 2015 the US Census Bureau reported that 350 different languages are spoken in American homes).

At first glance, the numbers following Spanish might not seem as significant. But when you take a closer look at the geography and demographics of your target audience, these factors could create different percentages of English speakers versus speakers of other languages.

Global Audience In-House

With the globalization of business, translating documents such as employee manuals, benefits information and contracts is frequently not only necessary for comprehension, but also a legal requirement.

In Quebec, all store signage and websites must include a French version in order for a business to maintain its license. In Switzerland, any official document needs to be available in all three official languages of the country.

The benefits of addressing your target audience in their first language far outweigh the investment for translation (and that cost is often much lower than you might think).

As you prepare to embark on our translation journey, consider us your translation trainers, here to provide advice and evaluations, and help you steer you toward success.  Now go give yourself a Badge. You’ve earned it.