Time to get multi-lingual

A few years ago I was farewelling a young Argentinean visitor at Christchurch airport and waiting while he paid his departure tax.

Two young Asian women at the next window obviously didn’t understand English.

The teller was trying to explain they needed to show her their passports but they didn’t have a clue what she was asking of them.

I showed them my friend’s passport and the light went on.

I wondered then, why there weren’t signs in several languages to help travellers who didn’t speak English.

At last there will be.

Christchurch Airport has issued a media release saying it’s getting multi-lingual:

Christchurch Airport is ensuring Asian visitors feel welcome through installing signage in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean – a first for any international airport in the country.

Christchurch Airport chief executive Jim Boult says the new signs are part of on-going work to make the airport environment even friendlier for international visitors.

“As a leader in the tourism industry, we’ve taken a proactive approach to rolling out multi-lingual signage through our terminal,” says Mr Boult.

“Providing Chinese, Japanese and Korean language versions of our signage throughout the airport reflects the changing nature of tourism to Christchurch and the South Island,” he says.

Mr Boult says the multi-lingual static and electronic displays are part of a broader strategy to encourage greater engagement with key visitor markets. Alongside business development initiatives for the Asia Pacific region, airport staff will soon learn a few basic phrases in other languages to help them communicate with a wider range of visitors.

“This work reflects where future growth in visitor volumes to this region will come from,” he says. “We’re seeing steadily returning numbers from both Japan and South Korea, while the Chinese market is growing significantly.” . . .

It’s a good initiative but why only Asian languages, why has it taken so long to realise the importance of communicating with people who don’t understand English and when will other airports get multi-lingual too?

If we’re serious about welcoming visitors from other countries we have to be prepared to communicate in other languages.

3 Responses to Time to get multi-lingual

  1. tiffany267 says:

    Couldn’t agree more!

  2. poneke says:

    Ele I’m not sure signs in other languages that use the Roman alphabet are needed. I’ve not had troubles following signs in countries which use that alphabet no matter what the language (Hungary aside!!) as one can normally work out what they mean. Most visitors here from Europe will have a working knowledge of English. I think it is excellent to have those signs in Korean, Japanese and Chinese as they are three different scripts so it will be very helpful for the many visitors from those countries. In those countries many important signs are also in English — not I think for English-language monoglots but because it is the Roman script used in most parts of the world and so can be widely understood.

    Arabic is another script that might be considered if we started getting a lot of visitors from Arabic-speaking countries but we don’t at the moment; I think most are students who already speak English.

  3. poneke says:

    Lest it be thought I was saying our visitors only come from Europe and Asia, I hasten to add that visitors from Latin America, the Subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, the South Pacific and places such as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia also use (additionally in the case of the Subcontinent) the Roman alphabet and so can “read” our signs, just as we can “read” many of the signs in their countries.

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