How are our decisions driven by language?

Facts to keep in mind if you want to influence your international customers’ intentions

Do we make the same decisions in a foreign language as we do in our native one? It may be logical to think that people would make the same choices no matter the language they are speaking, or that the challenge of using a foreign language would make decisions more confusing and disorganised.

Contrary to the general belief, the experts argue that dealing with a foreign language reduces decision-making biases.

What is the framing effect and how does it affect our decisions?

The ‘framing effect’ is quite a new phrase, and maybe you’ve never heard of it; but if you speak a foreign language or deal with international clients, you may have come across it without even knowing it. The idea is that the way information is presented or ‘framed’, affects our decisions. Pretty straight-forward, right? Nothing new about that, and a basic marketing principle to drive consumer behaviour: the way information affects us and our choices subconsciously.

Would you ever think that the same message, style and punctuation written in different languages affects your international clients, in a different way?

At this point, I’m sure you are asking yourself “what’s the difference in writing the same content in two languages?” Apart from the obvious fact that we are dealing with different languages; what is the crucial factor that changes our final decision? Again, scientists have the answer. Studies carried out on monolingual and bilingual people show that the emotions linked to one’s native language are essential in making decisions.

To cut a long story short, when we are presented with a message in our second language, we are less influenced by the framing effect and we react in a more rational way.

The experts explain that the foreign language leads to a greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native language does.

Choices made in a foreign language are more rational

Those who are multilingual respond in a more rational way when information is presented in their second language, because thinking in a foreign language increases the psychological gap and promotes speculation, mostly because of a reduction in emotional vibes. This doesn’t mean that we make less risky choices when we speak a foreign language, but rather that our emotions are not as strongly tied up in a foreign language, and therefore we can think in a logical, more detached way.

Does this mean that every kind of business has to be made in the client’s native language in order to establish a relationship and seal a contract/deal?

Yes and no. On one hand, you understand and put some effort into understanding your client’s culture and native language, and give them time to familiarise themselves with your brand and products. By doing this, their perception of your business will transcend across culture and language barriers. Maybe you can research deeper into the target market or learn a few phrases in German, Chinese or Arabic in order to entertain and build rapport.  But on the other hand, it’s not possible to translate into, or even learn every language. Think of this process as a marketing technique to try to appeal to your audiences emotions, instead of getting “down to business” straight away.

It’s no accident that Nelson Mandela said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Do you have an advantage over your competitors if you localise your content?

English is now, and has been for a few years, seen as the solid lingua franca of the world. If you go to a foreign country or you look to speak to anyone who doesn’t speak your native language, English is the easiest and safest solution. So why should you translate your website or your user manuals if everyone understands English? Not everyone who speaks English will necessarily want to do business in English. So, let’s dispel this myth with some figures: 71.4% of all internet users across the globe don’t have English as a first language, so by translating your website content you’ll reach out to a huge online audience.

Also, 87% of non-English speakers don’t buy products or services from English language websites.

So, you might think twice before posting and publishing your content only in English for your international clients! The more languages your content is translated into, the more opportunities you have to increase your global reach and penetrate new local markets!



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