Websites – What to translate and what not to

We know that managers, website owners and globalization teams need to justify constantly their budgets to their directors. More often than not, we hear arguments against translating websites or product information, such as “A lot of people understand English, so we don’t really need to translate that.” A survey by Common Sense Advisory, Inc. estimated that a billion people around the world are studying English and a few hundred million speak it natively. The survey also indicated that over half do not comprehend English well enough to navigate successfully through a website.

Time and budget constrains are the typical reasons why many companies do not localize their websites into local languages. From the survey, it was also evident substantial drop-offs in browsing, consideration, and purchasing that tracked directly to respondents’ ability to read English. Their desire to buy correlates directly to that ability.

When considering translating or not your website, I think a key aspect is to visualise your potential customer experience and go through the motions. Your site in English will probably turn off people who don’t read the language. Some may feel disrespected and leave on principle. People want to products or services with information on specifications that they can read; without it, they wouldn’t be able to assess the inherent value or functionality of your product. And post-sales support is just as important. Imagine your customers trying to deal with your technical support in a language not their own. Not that you need to have call centers for each target markets, but translating some portion of your online help, frequently asked questions, and knowledge bases can help.

The right Language Partner will work with you to identify and establish the priorities and scope of your translation needs.

The best thing about face-to-face meetings…

As I board my plane back to Barcelona after visiting TJX’s Distribution Centre in Wroclaw, Poland, I can’t stop thinking how useful and beneficial this experience has been. It was great to finally meet everyone in person. We’ve been working together for several years and exchanged hundreds of emails and calls over the course of the relationship. It felt as if we’ve known each other for ages, but nothing really beats a true face-to-face meeting.

The objective of this visit was for us to have a better understanding of the processes within the centre, and how our translations supported the training programmes that are given to the new associates at the centre. Part of the objective was also to better understand TJX’s internal language and jargon, which needs to be applied consistently across the board.

Together with Tomasz Fortuna, one of our TJX Polish team leaders, we were received by Marta Dyjach, TJX’s QMS Specialist who gave us a 4-hour tour of the distribution centre facilities that covered many key areas and stations. Marta was incredibly helpful and explained to us how it all works behind the scenes at the distribution process. It was incredibly powerful to see first-hand how their products are processed once at the centre, which allowed us to have a much better understanding of the challenges being faced from a language perspective.

Next we will continue with the improvement process by capturing all of the knowledge gained during our visit and updating and adapting our style guides and terminology databases, so that the Polish teams working on TJX projects going forward will be able to maintain the same level of consistency, both terminological and stylistic. I really can’t wait to hear TJX’s feedback once we complete the first series of training materials under this new approach.


Is your website ready to go multilingual?

So your English website is now up and running. You are now ready to take your website multilingual but are unsure what next steps to take. Despite there being a multitude of CMS that can be purchased right off the shelf, not all CMS are by default multilingual enabled.

You want a language specialist that can work directly with your IT personnel to assess your systems readiness so that their translation process smoothly integrates with your workflows. You want project managers to liaise with your IT teams to learn about the features of your CMS to ensure full import and export capability, and to advise them of the typical language and cultural issues that might come up.

The translations tools used by most agencies use today rely on the export and export feature of CMS’s in order to consistently translate texts and leverage previous translations, not to mention the savings from reusing previously approved translations and avoiding the time consuming and risky copy & paste of texts. CMS export and import capability is probably the most important feature required in a CMS if we are to go multilingual.

But in saying that, it is worth noting that this may just be the tip of the iceberg, and that there is much more than meets the eye. Have you taken into account shipping rates? Will you offer backend support & customer service specifically for the language or country? Will you be managing inventory and keep new sections up-to-date? Is there a SEO who can manage the onsite optimization?  Have you already purchased domains for the target countries?

So now you know what you need you can contact us and we can recommend how to best prepare for going multilingual with your website, flag any potential language and cultural issues that could have an impact on the translated content, and advise you on what target languages you could include.


DTP – Have you covered all the angles?

It is amazing where translation tools have taken us in the last decade. You can feed an exported file from many DTP applications, get it translated and proofread, and then automatically populate the translations back in place in the original file with just a few clicks. Obviously, you will need to account for text expansion, resize texts boxes and adjust fonts, but all that beats the old copy-paste technique, any day, any time.

Most designers now days are familiar with this approach and often complete the post-translation DTP adjustments themselves in languages they do not speak or read. Typesetting other languages is not any different from your own, but you should really know some basic rules, like word and character-based rules, the line-breaking rule for East Asian languages for instance, where certain characters should not come at the start of a line, and some characters should never be split up across two lines, etc.

But even riskier is manually typesetting in a language they don’t speak. As non-speakers, they can potentially introduce hyphenation, capitalization or punctuation errors. They may take for granted font selection and choosing hipper looking font families that do not support even the most common West European accents.

If you are preparing to create your Company Brochure in English to be translated into other languages and want to make sure it looks perfect, here are a few tips to follow in the original layout that will reduce headaches from foreign DTP:

  • Leave plenty of white space.
  • Avoid a font size that is too small (if you are using 6 pt already, it may need to come down to a tiny 4 pt).
  • Leave a respectable amount of leading (the space between lines).
  • If there is a lot of text for too few pages and you can see that it is going to get tighter in the foreign version, you may need to edit the text down.
  • Make sure the fonts you are using support foreign characters.

Oh Spanish…

As a Latin American living in Spain I am often asked many questions about my accent and the words I use when I speak Spanish. A good friend of mine makes fun of me because even the tone of my voice changes when I jump between English and Spanish. The truth is that while there are differences between the varieties of Spanish, we Spanish speakers can all understand each other; the differences in vocabulary are no greater than those between British and American English.

The differences in pronunciation fascinate me. Down in the south the ‘S’ is not always pronounced, some syllables go missing, the classic double-l in Argentina usually pronounced like the y in yellow or the s in measure. Some say Colombian Spanish is the most beautiful one, other say Spanish spoken in Madrid is the most important, some say that Argentinian Spanish is the sexiest. The difference that strikes me the most is perhaps the “lisp” that is common in Madrid and some other parts of Spain. Legend has it that it all started with King Ferdinand’s lisp that was copied by the Spanish nobility. Blows my mind! A speech impediment changing the way a language is pronounced.

However, it is not all that clear-cut when it comes to translating, say for instance, sales training materials for 10 Latin American countries. Let us not mention Mexico here, which is a complete different world, positively speaking, of course. I have seen the same translation being used for several countries, say for instance, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, I guess the criteria used was that they were all located in the south tip of the continent? Not sure about that, but if you ask me, I would say you should aim to go as specific as possible, your target audience will thank you for it.

In Latin America Spanish has many different variants or dialects depending on the zones where it is spoken, mainly because of the vastness of the territory and different history. I have seen Latin American being broken down into geographical areas: Amazonian, Bolivian, Caribbean, Central American, Andean, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Northern Mexican, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Puerto Rican and Argentinian Spanish.

Food for thought…