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What The Met’s numbers say about museum translation

A couple of months ago, for the New Year, The Metropolitan Museum in NYC shared their 2018 numbers on Instagram stories. I thought it was a super cool thing to do, and it provided incredibly valuable information for the field of museum translation.

What The Met's numbers say about museum translation
Click the image to check out The Met’s highlights!


What can we learn from The Met’s numbers

According to the data they posted, The Met received more than 7 million visitors on 2018. Yes, that many!

What The Met's numbers say about museum translation

And, most importantly, one third of those were international visitors!

What The Met's numbers say about museum translation

Now, I’m not very good at Math, but that means over 2 million foreign visitors?


It means about 2 million people whose mother tongue is not English (apart from Brits, Aussies, etc.) visited the museum.

And to them, we need to add all of the people living in the States whose mother tongue isn’t English either.

That is, yes, A LOT of people.


What does it mean for museum translation

So, we can estimate 2 million foreign visitors to The Met. What does that mean for other museums?

Let’s see…

Because even if you’re sure you want to include translated material in your museum, you still need to take two very important decisions:

1. What are you going to translate?

To answer that, you can read our article on  the different approaches to museum translation.

2. Which languages are you going to translate into?

Many museums in the US are now going bilingual.

Yes, Spanish is that big over there.

So much so I’ve made a whole career out of translating for the US Spanish-speaking market!

But let’s say you want to offer a few materials in other languages as well, for example maps, brochures or audio guides.

Good, then you are not only thinking of Latinos in the US but also of international visitors.


What languages should you choose?

Right, if we go back to The Met’s numbers, we said approximately 2 million foreigners visited The Met in 2018.

According to The Met, of these international visitors, the Top 5 countries of origin were China, France, Canada, Spain and Italy.

What The Met's numbers say about museum translation

These numbers are interesting, because they can give you a clue of which languages to choose for translation.

In the U.S., Spanish is the go-to language for translation, but if you’d like to have a few materials also available in other languages, this is a good place to start.

True, you might not receive 2 million foreigners a year, but these nationalities can also be understood as a reflection of the tourists visiting the country.

If you have a need to decide which languages to translate into, I think this is a good place to start.

It also reflects the most common languages museums usually request, so I know from experience you wouldn’t be too far off!


Which languages are best for museum translation then?

In short, I’d say: Spanish, Chinese, French and Italian.

Would you like to add more?

My personal decision, based on my experience, would be: German and Japanese.


I hope this has been useful and it will help your museum become more welcoming for all!

If you want to read some more before you decide, I recommend our ‘Which languages is it worth translating into?



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