Foreign Language Content - Articles

Who needs foreign language content in museums?

The following is an extract from Managing the multiple identities of a small museum, a presentation by Greg McManus at INTERCOM 2006:

For your international visitors, one of the most important things you can do as a small museum is to provide information in a range of foreign languages. In New Zealand I have to say this is not done at all well by most museums, including some of the largest.
At the Rotorua Museum we learnt very early on that if you provide meaningful information in a wide range of languages, not only will the experience of our non-English speaking visitors be enhanced, but we could use it as a point of difference and powerful marketing tool. For example, one of the cinema experiences we have in the museum, Rotorua Stories, was originally produced in seven languages (including Mandarin Chinese), but not Spanish as we did not perceive that we had a large enough Spanish-speaking market to make it worthwhile. How wrong we were! Not long after the cinema was opened, a tour guide from Spain asked if we could provide a Spanish version of the film and that if we did he would bring all his tours through the museum. We duly produced a Spanish version of the film and it has proven to be the most frequently requested foreign language version of the film, attracting virtually every Spanish speaking tour group from Spain and South America that visits Rotorua.
The same rationale applies to printed gallery guides and more detailed information about particular exhibitions or key objects and collections in the museum. These are produced in approximately fifteen languages currently and more are added each year. With languages for which there are not yet many visitors, such as Thai, Portuguese and Dutch, we produce a limited number of laminated copies that visitors return upon completion of their visit. It cannot be underestimated how important these are in enhancing the experience of these visitors, many of whom are surprised and delighted that their language is provided for at all. This is not a particularly expensive undertaking but makes a huge difference to visitors and I encourage all smaller museums to invest in producing quality informational material in as wide a range of languages as you can afford.

Extract reproduced by permission of the author. The full article can be seen here:

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