At WebFuel, we love inviting guest bloggers. Why? Because they bring fresh ideas, while providing great & varying insights. Today we welcome Ysabel Viau as a guest blogger. Over the years, we’ve seen an upswing in bilingual websites in Canada. Ysabel is a bilingual content writer. So… we invited her to blog about writing for a bilingual website targeting Canada (English / French). What should one take into consideration?

Ysabel ViauGuest post by Ysabel Viau

Canada is a great country: 2nd in the world in size and one whose culture is enriched with 2 official languages. Certainly an asset, bilingualism can also constitute a marketing challenge for organizations and individuals doing business in Canada. If this great land is your market, you must seriously consider developing both French and English content for your website. As forfeiting one language for the other may very well cost you in market share. Taking on the dual language challenge commands a few considerations, starting with the ABC: Audience, Breadth and Culture.

AUDIENCE – Who are you trying to reach?

As for any other communication tools, one must first identify the target audience for the website. Always know exactly whom you are addressing so you can speak their language. Seems simple enough but most develop website content to reflect themselves rather than to serve their audience.

If your audience is Canadian, they will speak either English or French or both. If a francophone potential customer lands on your all-English website, chances are you’ll lose him/her instantly. By choosing one over the other, you may leave a significant chunk of your audience – and potential customers – lost in translation. Do you really want to limit traffic on your website?

But maybe you are targeting a specific share of the Canadian market, which brings us to the 2nd consideration…

BREADTH – Is your market local or national?

How far do you wish – or need – to reach? Are you a local entrepreneur or a national corporation? Is your audience concentrated in Montréal or all over Canada? The breadth of your target audience will determine your content language needs.

If your website promotes a restaurant in say, Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, French content may not be necessary. But if you are a major Canadian corporation, a bilingual website – French and English content – is obligatory. In some cases, you may even have to consider a 3rd language – like Inuktitut for instance, should you wish to reach audiences in the North. One thing is certain: you don’t have to be “big” to require bilingual or trilingual content.

Canada is a vast land. To foreign clients, I often explain the intricacies of my country as 4-countries-in-1: Quebec, Central Canada, BC and the Maritimes (and we should already be addressing the North as a 5th country within our great nation). Each of these “countries within” boasts particularities that distinguish them. And each province and territory speaks 1, 2 or more languages in varying proportions.

Depending on your target audience, this “multiple country” status necessarily dictates your website’s language needs. It also speaks to our 3rd consideration…

CULTURE – 2 languages, 2 cultures or is it more?

If you think French is French and English is English, think again. Canadian English sounds like American English but is written like British English. Canadian French is spoken in multiple shades: Québec City French differs from Manitoba’s St-Boniface French, which varies from Montreal French. Although the latter often transforms into Frenglish, using an Anglicism in written French in Quebec is akin to committing a crime.

Language is very closely linked to culture. It is in fact a dominant element of culture. In a multicultural country such as Canada, dual or multiple languages must be considered in communications. We may even have to consider “language multiculturalism”.

For a real taste of language multiculturalism, consider Valencia, Spain where natives speak 3 types of Spanish: Spain Spanish, Catalan and Valencian. This makes deciphering local street signs a tad challenging for the dumbfounded Mexican-Spanish-speaking tourist lost in streets randomly named in any of the 3 local idiomas

Googling the cultural labyrinth

Culture will necessarily influence the way people find you on Search Engines. Language, keywords, tone, information selection and other elements provided in your content will impact how your audience finds you on the Web.

If you build a website hoping that your audience will come, but omit to speak its language or to consider its culture, chances are it will not come. Of course, your target audience may find you accidentally. But ask yourself: is accidental discovery the best way to drive traffic, awareness or sales?

Ysabel Viau is a strategic development expert and writer whose specialties include cultural intelligence, marketing & communications. You can read her blog on business strategies, communications, emerging trends, marketing and urban branding or her on-going online fiction series NOMAD.