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When it comes to international recruitment, how much content to produce in other languages is one of the questions that comes up again and again. The answer that makes the most sense to me is the same answer to the question of how much content you should produce overall: as little as possible to achieve your goals.

In a perfect world, every piece of marketing collateral would be 100% customized to the person reading it. In this less-than-perfect world, every decision to translate or create new content in another language is a decision that should be carefully considered. Producing and managing content in English is difficult enough!

Four reasons to produce content in other languages

In general, it makes sense to produce marketing materials in other languages if you:

  • Have recruiters/agents/offices abroad who can make a strong business case for needing it. (Strong is something more than purely anecdotal or that you’ll do better with localized content. There’s no question of that. Do the ends justify the means?)
  • Want to improve SEO results in other languages and regions.
  • Have something important to say to multipliers and gatekeepers who may not speak English such as parents and high school advisors abroad.
  • Want to connect with international prospects in a different way, showing them that you welcome and respect their unique backgrounds.

Three reasons not to produce content in other languages

1. Cost/Quality

The big one is obviously cost, but, equally importantly is that it’s rarely enough to simply translate existing content one-to-one to another language. That can work for something extremely technical like an application. Yet any marketing copy that needs to make sense to someone from a completely different culture, uses references to their own secondary and post-secondary education systems, and speaks to their particular desires and fears about coming to your university … well, that needs to be as good as any marketing copy you write for domestic audiences. And we know that’s not easy.

2. Lost in translation

Another big reason to minimize copy in other languages is that it is very difficult to judge whether or not it is truly expressing your brand values as an institution or program – or, honestly, is even correct. Even if you have native speakers review the text, unless those native speakers are also higher ed marketing experts, you just won’t know how good it actually is.

3. Managing expectations

You don’t want to raise expectations. Seeing one page that is clearly translated within the ecosystem of English-language marketing materials won’t necessarily make someone think that you can answer questions in their language. But the more content you produce in any one language, the more the expectation will be that you can reply to emails and answer phone calls in that language.

What to produce

Many institutions start with a one-page flyer or landing page in languages relevant for particularly important recruitment markets. That can help to connect with both prospects and parents in a different way and show that you are serious about recruiting people from their country.

Along the same lines, something like a virtual campus tour can be translated into other languages in a relatively straightforward way. The University of Rhode Island, for example, has a virtual tour (produced by YouVisit) available in five languages, with English as the only one with an actual student video guide.

Microsites or larger sections of a website in another language is ideal when there are full recruitment offices in other countries who have the higher ed marketing and recruitment experts to ensure that the text is both relevant and correct for the local audiences while maintaining the university’s brand and messaging. Monash University specifically says that they offer “Translated Information” in a number of other languages, which makes it clear that there won’t likely be vastly different content on these pages.

One of the most resource-intensive endeavors is maintaining social media accounts in other languages. This comes up most frequently in China where the social media accounts are both incredibly important and generally unique to that market. Because this requires someone (or more than someone!) to be creating and managing a lot of content and, often, engaging with the users, this is best left until you have someone who is a higher ed marketing expert with social media experience in that local language and country.

Four tips for translation and producing content in other languages

  1. Find a great translation agency and work with them to develop a style guide in any language you’ll be translating into frequently. It’s important to stay consistent in another language, just as it is in English, but you also need to keep track of decisions on how certain terms are translated.  Higher ed translation is tricky cause you must bridge the linguistic gap between two systems and the concept of, for example, “tenure” might not even exist in both.
  2. Include translated or foreign language materials in any editorial calendar so they don’t become an afterthought – and include any “expiration dates” for when they need to be changed or taken down.
  3. Let your international students create lots of great content in their own languages! It’s more important that it be authentic than perfect and will almost certainly connect with the audience better than nearly anything you could create and translate.
  4. Think carefully about what can be translated, what needs to be written from scratch in another language, and what may need to be “transcreated”, where you may make significant changes to the content in order to keep the meaning and tone intact. This question should bring you back to the goals of the text and force you into the mindset of a subset of your international prospects, always a helpful exercise in itself!

Megan Brenn-White has nearly two decades of experience in international education and content development, most of which has been helping higher education institutions communicate more effectively online with international audiences. She founded The Brenn-White Group in 2010.​​