When localisation becomes a legal necessity

 

French text on ground

 

Localisation is a strategic business decision. After all, 87% of international consumers are more likely to buy products online if content is available in their language. However, in some markets, it’s more essential than in others. Legal requirements to localise products and/or marketing materials vary across the world. Depending on your target market, it may simply be the entrance fee for selling there.

 

 

Why do some countries have laws around language? They may be concerned with protecting the national language(s). This is arguably the case in France, where the Académie française is the official regulator.

They may protect minority languages or balance the linguistic needs of different parts of the population. In the UK, Welsh is the only language to have official status.

Some laws address particular needs. For example, GDPR-compliant privacy policies must be in ‘clear and plain language’. In other words, they must be easily understood. This also applies to information leaflets for medicines, for obvious reasons.

Here are some language policies from around the world. Will they impact your international expansion?

 

Loi Toubon (France)

Named after the former minister of culture, Jacques Toubon, this law came into force in 1994. It requires the use of French in all commercial communications. This includes contracts, advertising, products and instructions. Although the law was drafted when the internet was in its infancy, it’s considered to apply both online and offline.

In 2006, a high profile case against General Electric ruled that the company had to provide internal documents in French. It couldn’t oblige employees to make do with English.

Enforcement action against websites hosted outside of France is obviously problematic. However, there aren’t very many reported breaches. This may be due to a combination of accepted practice and SEO considerations, i.e. French consumers searching for French keywords.
 

Putonghua (China)

The People’s Republic has incredible linguistic diversity. There are more than 100 indigenous languages. Nevertheless, the official language is Mandarin, written in simplified characters. (This writing system was introduced in the 1950s to promote literacy.)

A law agreed in 2000 protects the right to use and develop other languages. It also stipulates that all packaging, advertisements and broadcasts must be in Mandarin.

In Taiwan, on the other hand, legislators are redefining ‘national language’. This is expected to lead to Taiwanese becoming an official language, alongside Mandarin. (Albeit Mandarin written in traditional characters.)

old lady walking in front of neon sign
 
Act XCVI (Hungary)

Hungary too has acted to ensure advertising is in the national language. As of 2001, foreign languages are only permitted on commercial ads, shop signs and slogans if a Hungarian version is included.

This follows a general trend to language protectionism in Eastern Europe. The latest example of this trend is a move by the Ukraine to enforce the use of Ukrainian in public life. This also applies to websites and apps, with a transition period of three years.
 

None of the above

Many countries don’t have an official language at all, including the USA. Others have many. India has 22 ‘scheduled’ languages – more than any other in the world. (South Africa is in second place with 11.)

The presence – or absence – of language legislation is only one factor to consider for website localisation. The debate over translation vs localisation also continues. We would argue that a skilled adaptation of your content can help you engage your target customers and drive conversions.

Need help? Nexya is at your side. Our expert team can advise you on strategy. We can also help you to put your plan in action – whatever your localisation needs.