It’s easy to make assumptions about who you’re communicating with in your community and it’s good practice to periodically check in on the way your community communicates. 

You may have lived in the area some time or just moved into your role but things change quickly and just because someone isn’t native to the area or they are part of a transient community, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider languages and translation efforts when it comes to critical communication during and emergency and also in your every day community engagement efforts.

Other considerations when it comes to languages are not just around residents - if you are responsible for an area that has a lot of tourists, are you engaging with them in their native tongue? It’s all very well having a robbery prevention campaign at transportation hubs but if your message is only in English, you’re doing your visitors a disservice. 

Considering the rapidly shifting demographics of the country due to remote working, migration and virtual engagement, there are now newer communities building up in areas that were otherwise predominantly English speaking areas. Think of giant tech hubs that are attracting many people from different parts of the world or where there might be international sporting events attracting global visitors. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the right people receive the right message at the right time.

1. Cantonese and Mandarin

Estimated number of speakers: 3,495,000

States most commonly spoken: California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

2. Tagalog

Estimated number of speakers: 1,764,000

States most commonly spoken: Nevada

3. Vietnamese

Estimated number of speakers: 1,571,000

States most commonly spoken: Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia.

4. Arabic

Estimated number of speakers: 1,260,000

States most commonly spoken: : Michigan and Tennessee

5. French

Estimated number of speakers: 1,172,000

States most commonly spoken: Louisiana, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Should you always publish in another language?

Not always. It's important to be aware of your ultimate goal. Oftentimes there could be an issue that only relates to a particular part of your community. It may be a specific health related campaign or maybe there's a crime that occurs that needs a witness appeal. If you are in a tourist area where certain people may need extra advice, then look at how you are communicating with them. When you are creating your communication strategy and you're working on your stakeholder mapping exercise, this is where languages will come into play.

Can I just use Google translate?

Well, it's got better with time but if you're tight on budget go ahead, but be sure to use the human touch - run it by someone who speaks the language and ensure you have the nuances right. There's nothing more offensive and alienating to a native speaker than simply running it through the online translation service. If you have the budget try to use a professional human translation service.


It's important to consider that people don't always consume information the way you do. Do the research and reach out to people who know more than you. Building relationships and having a real understanding of your community is vital to community engagement.

Do you need advice on how to enhance your communication strategy? Our founder, Christine Townsend is always on hand to offer support. Contact us now.

December 5, 2022

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