ULG's Language Services Blog

5 Keys to Effective Multicultural Communication

This article was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated.

Communication across cultures can be challenging. But in an age of globalization, effective multicultural communication is vitally important. Even within the United States, 13.1% of the population is foreign-born.

So, how can you make sure your message is understood by a multicultural, multilingual audience? These 5 keys to effective multicultural communication will keep your words from getting lost in translation.


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Speak your Audience’s Language

Let’s start with the most obvious key to multicultural communication: Speak your audience’s language. If you speak English and they don’t, that means you need to have your content translated. Do not rely on Google to facilitate accurate and effective multicultural communication–sooner or later, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

You may think that your audience speaks English well enough for you to dispense with translation. But do they? Even in the EU, only 30% of people speak English well enough to hold a conversation. And even if they can hold a conversation in English, they’ll still find it easier to communicate in their native tongue. That’s why people tend to prefer native language content even if they speak English as a second language. For example, consider the following statistics:

  • 75% of non-English speakers say they want content in their native language.
  • 9 out of 10 EU internet users prefer to visit native language websites.

Don’t Just Translate, Localize

Translating the words into a language your audience can understand is the first step. Sometimes, that’s enough. But communication is about so much more than just words. That’s why truly effective multicultural communication often requires localization.

Everything from the colors in the design to the formats of dates to units of measurement may need to change so that the meaning is easily accessible to people with different cultural backgrounds. Often, it helps to use images that reflect your target audience. This is especially important in marketing, e-learning, compliance training, and any communication that needs to engage the target audience emotionally to be effective.

Whatever you’re translating, a quality localization team (like the one here at VIA) ensures your message comes through clearly.

Use an Effective Multicultural Communication Strategy

Managing content across multiple regions can be complicated. One way to make things simpler? Implement a centralized, company-wide strategy for multicultural communications, translation, and localization.

With an effective strategy and a standardized set of procedures, your brand voice and messaging remain clear and consistent across countries and cultures.

Communicate Thoughtfully and Clearly

Another key to multilingual communication: speak or write clearly, with consideration for your multicultural audience. If you’re talking, that means speaking slowly, so that ESL speakers can more easily understand you.

Whether you’re writing or speaking, it’s a good idea to avoid idioms and local figures of speech. For example, “it’s raining cats and dogs” makes sense to English speakers. But in Greek, they would say “it’s raining chair legs.”

Go easy on the jokes, too- they often lose meaning in translation.

Mind Your Manners

Finally, keep in mind that different cultures have different etiquette rules. These rules can apply to both spoken and written communication. Run afoul of them, and you risk alienating your audience. For written content, your language services provider can assist you in finding the right tone.

Multicultural communication isn’t always easy. But it’s always worthwhile. VIA’s teams of native-speaking translators and localization experts can help. Learn more about our award-winning translation services!


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