If you’re planning to localize your content for a Swiss audience, you already know that Italian is the third most-spoken language in the country, primarily used in the cantons of Ticino and Grigioni. The critical question is: Can Italian translators communicate efficiently with Italian-speaking Swiss people? Not really. Swiss Italian is very similar to standard Italian. But they’re not the same language, and locals can quickly tell whether you’ve taken shortcuts in your translations.
Just as an American knows when someone writes or speaks British English, people living in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland can quickly recognize that you’re not a local if you use standard Italian.
They will understand you, but they’ll know that you’re using the wrong language. Some might think you’re trying to communicate with an Italian audience and ignore your messages entirely. In the worst-case scenario, they could find your lack of attention to detail disrespectful.
That’s because the job of localizing for Swiss Italian is more than just using the Swiss word instead of the standard Italian one. You must also address the cultural differences between the two countries to overcome the language barrier and build trust with your local audience.
Swiss Italian is a language, not a dialect
Swiss Italian is more than a regional version of Dante’s language. It has specific words and constructions, and, in some cases, it implies a different syntax. Grammar rules can also be different due to the language’s evolution close to German- and French-speaking populations.
Moreover, Swiss Italian is one of Switzerland’s four official languages under the Swiss Constitution. The Swiss Chancellery manages terminology and oversees official translations into this language.
Simply put, you can’t ignore the fact that you’re dealing with a different language when you translate your documentation for compliance reasons. In the same way, you need to make sure that you’re doing justice to this language every time you use it to communicate with local partners, customers and government officials.
For you as a brand, it’s a way to show your audience that you’re aware of what makes them different and respect their identity. It can strengthen your relationship with locals and consolidate your position in the local market.
Leverage the small differences to make an excellent first impression
Italian tourists who travel to Italian-speaking Switzerland have difficulties understanding all the words spoken in the region. Similarly, Swiss Italian speakers need some time to get used to standard Italian. According to official dictionaries, the Swiss Italian has more than 200 words that are not used in standard Italian. What’s more, the meaning of certain Italian words has changed over the years in Switzerland.
You’re looking at everyday words that define concepts like “grades,” “special offers,” “making a reservation” or “self-service.” These minor differences can limit understanding for people who aren’t aware of how the language has evolved, and you’ll have to deal with them regardless of your industry or niche.
Suppose you used standard Italian words instead of the local versions. In that case, you could quickly generate confusion among Swiss people who speak Italian, making it hard for them to understand your messages and relate to your content.
Beyond these differences, professional translators also address grammar and syntax diversity. Italian spoken in Switzerland uses articles and prepositions differently and, in some cases, attributes gender differently — in Italian, every noun has a gender.
Depending on the context, your content might sound a little funny or even offensive. While tourists can afford to make these errors, brands that aim to establish a solid presence in Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland must make sure they communicate correctly with local audiences.
Local linguists play a vital role in the localization process
Anyone can learn a few hundred extra words and some of the subtleties — such as the fact that the local word for “weekend” has a different gender from standard Italian. However, standard Italian speakers can still get easily lost in the subtle differences that have arisen from the influence that Swiss French and Swiss German have had on the language in the last centuries.
Translating and localizing for Swiss Italian require the input of local experts. They know how the audience speaks and understand the cultural differences that can impact the way people receive your message. Italian speakers who haven’t lived in Switzerland will rarely nail the right message because they lack the cultural insights necessary for communicating effectively with your audience.
By leveraging the minor differences, you can overcome language and cultural barriers, show your professionalism and connect with local audiences to gain competitive edges in local markets.