According to Infoplease, nowadays there are around 6,500 languages currently being spoken around the world. Of course, as one can read in this article from the Linguistic Society of America, counting languages is practically impossible, as new varieties appear every day, the same way as some other languages go extinct. But for the sake of argument, let us say that there are 6,500 languages in the world. Our first question should be: what is a language? Does a dialect count? Does a different accent of a language count?
“Consider the facts of negative sentences, for example,” says the article from the LSA. “Standard Italian uses a negative marker which precedes the verb (Maria non mangia la carne‘Maria not eats the meat’), while the language spoken in Piémonte (Piedmontese) uses a negative marker that follows the verb (Maria a mangia nen la carn ‘Maria she eats not the meat’). Other differences correlate with this: standard Italian cannot have a negative with an imperative verb, but uses the infinitive instead, while Piedmontese allows negative imperatives; standard Italian requires a ‘double negative’ in sentences like Non ho visto nessuno ‘not have I seen nobody’ while Piedmontese does not use the extra negative marker, and so on. The functioning of negation here establishes a parameter that distinguishes these (and other) grammars. (…) scholars have estimated that somewhere between 300 and 500 of these distinct possibilities are actually instantiated in the region!”
There are more distinctive cases, though. Take Spain for example: a country where Spanish is the official national language, but where “dialects” – which are, as a matter of fact, whole new languages themselves, and some of them older than actual Spanish and with no similarities whatsoever- are co-official in their respective regions, taught in schools and proudly spoken both on the streets and during official events. These people love their language, or “dialect”, and appreciate being addressed in it. They will certainly pay closer attention to a document or speech in their regional language than in common Spanish.
From an international business’ point of view, this might sound like something not worth taking into consideration – we are talking about extra costs that could be avoided just by translating all communications into the national language, which supposedly everybody understands.
But translation – or, more specifically, localization – is not just about making communications understandable. It’s about achieving the biggest impact on your target audience. About getting their attention and making them feel connected to you and your company.
So back to the question “is it worth it?” the answer is: it depends. Obviously, if you are in charge of finding different translators and negotiating rates with them, you probably would want to hire only a few people you can trust with the least amount of work – the less trouble for you, the better.
But consider this: if you hire a translation agency with years of experience and a vast network of in-country native translators that, on top of that, offers discounts for large volumes on their translation services… That is worth it. At the end of the day, you will have a localized translation that will have a much greater impact on your audience, and the long-term benefits will be significant.
So… yes, it depends. It depends on whether you want to risk it going solo, or you decide to trust the best to take care of it. inwhatlanguage is always there to help – keep us in mind!