The Need for Foreign Language Translations
Having recovered from the whirlwind that is the annual NAFSA Conference, we reflect on how small the world has become with a gathering of over 9500 attendees from 100+ countries. Each trip into the Expo Hall served as a reminder of the many languages we speak and the common bond we share in international education. This raises the question – how can institutions leverage translations in their international student recruitment strategies?
In my time at EducationUSA we always taught our advisers that we needed to live where our audiences live. For many, that meant engaging with students virtually in addition to having a robust physical outreach strategy. Increasingly, the ability to speak the native language of prospective students and their families in addition to having native language content across your social, digital and print platforms, is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
We’ll explore five areas colleges use native language content to better reach key demographics: web, print, communications flow, video, and live chats.
If and when prospective overseas students and their parents get to your international admissions site, does it speak to them? Does your institution have profiles on various college search sites with any language other than English present? As with stealth applicants that befuddled enrollment managers in the recent past, the shadow inquirers that visit your websites and profiles now may never register on your radar because they cannot find what they need.
From something as simple as University Overviews in nine languages beyond English as Whitworth University (WA) has done successfully, to Printable Fact Sheets that the College of Lake County (IL) has used for several years, having these basics available allows students and parents, at a minimum, to find basic facts, cost, admissions criteria, and important deadlines.
For those institutions that have various profiles online, having locally produced language versions of your information cannot be underestimated, as this content can, and should be, repurposed, or at least linked to from your international admissions site. For example, the University of Missouri (MU) and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have links from their institutional sites to 10 different languages versions of their content (on their institutionally-branded Hotcourses profiles): Arabic, Chinese (UIC), Indonesian, Korean (MU), Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Spanish (Latin America), Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese. These versions are all produced locally in those markets to provide the most accurate translations possible for the respective audiences.
An added benefit of translated content is its contribution to higher SEO rankings, as one of the prerequisites for a good level of SEO is to make sure that content is not duplicated.
For institutions committed to direct recruitment travel overseas and/or work via EducationUSA or agents to reach prospective students and parents, having brochures or other handouts in the local language allow for the most mission critical information to get in the hands of those who need it most. Even if your college does not have an ESL program and does not do conditional admissions, you should plan to provide information to parents whose English level may not be at the level of their potentially admissible children.
If traveling for a series of fairs to places where you may not have an interpreter with you at your table, a simple one-pager fact sheet of information (including costs, deadlines, admissions policies, and requirements) in the local language makes sense. More robust brochures in other languages produced for travel/local representatives can be costly if outsourced for translations and layouts for printing require close attention to detail particularly for right to left languages like Arabic.
Communications flow messaging
Whether it is a simple “You Are Welcome Here” message in a variety of languages at the prospect stage, or specific information for applicants in their local language, to an introductory letter from the president of the student organization for that country, short emails either in video or more traditional text/image messages are simple ways to incorporate native language in ongoing messaging to students and/or parents. Certainly, a functioning CRM makes implementing this process a much easier prospect than having to do this from spreadsheets.
Current student interviews are where most institutions can leverage native language content without too much effort. Moreover, faculty who are from or have studied/researched in key markets can provide colleges with authoritative content that can be used for both students and parents from those countries.
Perhaps the more ambitious institutions can take a page from EducationUSA. Over the past few years, the team at the U.S. Department of State, that manages the digital presence for the EducationUSA network, has invested in their EducationUSA Interactive series of webinars on key topical sessions related to admission to U.S. higher education institutions. Versions of these webinars have been done in Spanish over the last four years as well, largely as part of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas movement begun under the Obama administration. Some of these webinars were voiced over for reproduction in Spanish, others were originally recorded with native Spanish speakers. While this EducationUSA series features hour-long topical events, shorter length videos that are 2-3 minutes max will likely have greater impact for prospective students.
As with the EducationUSA Interactive series, which does take questions in some settings from viewers, the opportunities for direct, live conversations from prospective students and parents, with institution representatives, is international recruitment gold. The value added to the image of the institution in the prospective student and family’s eyes in immeasurable. Fears can be allayed, questions and doubts answered, and, most importantly, trust can be established and earned in the process.
These live chat events can be text only chats or can be Facebook Live video chats (or using other platforms) with someone from the institution taking questions and answering in the language of the target demographic. At a previous institution, we were able to capitalize on successful in-person college fairs by hosting a live video chat with one of our current students. The video chat was expressly set up for the parents and students with whom our rep had met at the fairs a couple of days earlier.
Challenges with translations
For digital translations, what matters most is deciding which languages are needed. Is a cover-all version, offered through an automated translation system, the right way to go, or is it too confusing? Your site may have visitors from 125 countries, but which of those are your key demographic markets? Clearly, the costs and accuracies of translated content are two of the most significant concerns when committing to providing native language material for overseas audiences. If your institution chooses to rely on Google Translate for your international admissions site be forewarned, the translations are not perfect, and with some of the technical terms of academia, they can lead to incorrect information being given. Having a very visible disclaimer would be a wise step if choosing to go down this road (e.g. EducationUSA and Study in the States).
Whether to outsource or rely on on-campus resources to do the translations is often a decision that boils down to budget. However, according to Marie Whalen, Associate Director of International Admissions and Recruitment at Whitworth University, “translation is both a skill and an art. For something as important as a website, you should go with professionals.” How often to update translations is another key decision to be made. In as much as institutions hope their content can be evergreen, dates and tuition, fees, insurance, housing costs change annually so even basic fact sheets need an annual review.
Especially for live events (text or video chats), if you are relying on students to answer questions, there needs to be a high level of trust that the student is well-trained on appropriate responses related to university policies and procedures.
If your institution has yet to take the first steps with native language content for international admissions purposes, the best advice is start small. Begin with key information on admissions process, costs, dates, etc., and build from there. Identifying the key languages/markets to target should hopefully be an easier task for colleges with strategic plans already in place. In any case, taking up the challenge to use native language content in your international admissions efforts is worthy one, and done right, can yield positive results.