Last November, Montreal citizens registered over 423 complaints for English-only websites to the OQLF. Complaints targeted companies in the Saint Laurent and Ahuntsic districts. The OQLF, or Office Québécois de la Langue Française, is in charge of supervising language policies in the Quebec province. They basically ensure French is the common language throughout the province.
So when this office accepts 93% of the complaints registered, it’s a big deal. They are flagging 394 companies for not adding a French translation to their website.
Fines up to $20,000
Companies risk fines ranging anywhere from $2,500 to $20,000. However, the OQLF usually remedies to the situation after communicating with the company. In fact, if companies do not have the means (or the willingness) to translate their website into French, they have two choices:
- Make their webpages unavailable to visitors from Quebec.
- Add a “French version coming soon” page to their website.
With most companies targeted, this should not even be an issue. Some have big budgets. Some have been doing business in Montreal for 40 years.
The rule is clear
The dozen or so plaintiffs were referring to a recommendation from the “Superior Council of the French Language” (CSLF). It states “Commercial documentation made public in Quebec must be in French. This rule extends to advertisement texts, such as catalogues, brochures, pamphlets, and commercial listings of websites of companies doing business in Quebec.”
So that explains why the OQLF will not follow up on companies doing business outside of Quebec. Neither will it target those with bilingual websites. Most website translations are affordable.
Will we see more French website translations?
There is a chance this next step will see an increase in bilingual or French websites. At least some sort of French version will be added. But companies in the past have been recalcitrant to doing so. Big ones too.
Just a few years ago, retailers like Urban Outfitters or Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle Outfitters, Anthropologie, Aeropostale, Club Monaco, etc. were facing a similar situation. According to HEC Montreal marketing professor Jacques Nantel: “these cases of linguistic stubborness are great examples of what not to do. Serving even part of your customers badly is a very bad strategy”.
And the Facebook page comments and consumer boycotts prove his point. Four years on, groups of disgruntled citizens continue to check internet pages for “outlaw” companies who refuse to translate their websites. Some of the aforementioned companies now have full French versions, some do not.
Translation as an investment
Translating a website is not always easy. A 200 page website full of ever-evolving product lines will require the attention of a few translators on the long term. That does not always fit in the budget.
But if you can keep a few of the customers you are hoping to serve, wouldn’t this be a good trade-off?
Admitedly the French-speaking customers’ market share is relatively small in North America. But if so many companies choose to sell their products in Quebec, it is because they benefit financially from it. If your image is damaged by an English-only website, then a good French translation can be just the medicine you need. Not only will your image improve, your sales will increase.
Customers have always, and will continue to prefer being served in their language. Sometimes, whether it is law or not, translating your website in your customers’ language is a sound investment. Our Kotolingo translation agency being based in Montreal, aspires to help as many local businesses as possible with this.