Does language really matter?

Talk to me. Speak my language.

No, not all of your customers speak English, and, no, not all of those who can are ‘happy’ to browse let alone make a transaction online in a language other than their own. Many can and will tolerate English language communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you?

Visitors to your site who are less proficient in English will not only visit your site less, they won’t stay as long as ‘confident’ English speakers. According to a global market research study by the Common Sense Advisory (CSA), 16% of French respondents consider themselves confident in English, the Germans are just marginally more assured at 19%. 50% of French and German speaking online shoppers said they ‘rarely’ visited English language sites; that figure jumps to 61% for Japanese speakers. Can you afford to miss out on daily traffic from these huge groups of potential customers?

Let’s say you DO manage to attract the full complement of non-native English speakers to your site, now what? You need to keep them there long enough to convince them to make a purchase. The same CSA survey revealed that a third of non-native English speakers spend more time on sites offering information in their mother-tongue than on English sites. And while 19% say they are ‘very likely’ to buy from an English language site, another 19% say they completely boycott English language only sites. Just 5% of Japanese and 7% of Chinese respondents said they were very comfortable buying in languages other than their own. 75% of respondents (from all over the world) said that when choosing between buying similar products online, they’d choose to buy the product accompanied by information in their own language.

Customer reviews and customer service seem to be where non-native English speakers seek most reassurance. Around 75% of those surveyed by the CSA said that at the very least they would like to see product reviews in their own language. Up to 80% of those who deem themselves not ‘confident’ in English would like to see translated aftercare customer service. The message here is treat those who took the leap and bought in their non-native language correctly and you might see yourselves with new repeat customers all over the world.

Let’s carve a pathway for your potential customers. Cut through the Anglo-centric attitudes of your competitors. Dive in, localise, tailor your customers’ experience in a language they understand, and make sure you’re striving to keep giving your existing customers in your well-trodden territories what they need, don’t let them be enticed by brands localising in their region better than you are.

You’re proud of your products, you strive for perfection in what you create and deliver, but it’s the experience you offer your global customers that will give your brand the competitive edge; localisation is key to customer experience and language is where it all starts.

Tolerated today, gone tomorrow

Your products are stunning. Your brand is strong. Your social media and marketing teams do a fantastic job and online sales are growing. You know you’ve got something special and your customers seem to agree, in your home market at least. With so much going for your brand, you can’t fail in new international markets, right?

Sorry, it’s not that simple…

When it comes to international online sales, your brand, product and marketing may certainly drive shoppers to your site but it’s the experience that will convert curious visitors into loyal customers. And language is key to the international customer experience.


Let’s try to understand how an international customer (let’s call her Miriam) might experience your site…

Miriam is browsing Instagram. She sees one of your products and clicks through to your site. Miriam is excited at the gorgeous range of products by this unique new brand and is curious to explore further. Miriam doesn’t speak fluent English so looks for the translation option, but her language isn’t available. That’s ok, with a combination of intuition and recognition of a few English terms from her school days, she begins to navigate the site. With some trial and error, Miriam soon forgets her growing frustration when she finds the perfect item for her upcoming special event. The sizing isn’t localised, Miriam wonders if it will fit. It’s obviously not a local company, maybe there are extra costs involved in returning it. In fact, the shipping costs are probably extortionate too. Miriam clicks on what she assumes are the T&Cs.  She starts to feel a little overwhelmed. Maybe it’s not worth the risk.

Miriam abandons her cart….

Language plays a critical role in converting browsers to buyers. 70% of the online population are not native English speakers. That still gives you 30% potential market share though, right? Right…if you are prepared to limit your global potential to the 30% of fluent English speakers who may or may not want to buy your products.

Even the most proficient language speakers prefer their own native language by a wide margin. According to the Common Sense Advisory, 84% of shoppers prefer buying from online sites that are offer content in their own language. 74% will buy again if after-sales are in their own language and 75% would like to see reviews in their own language if nothing else. Some nationalities even prefer bad translations to no translations!

Despite these compelling statistics, many business owners still hesitate to commit to localising online content for international customers. Of course, some shoppers can and will tolerate English language business communications, but do you really want your customers to just ‘tolerate’ you? How sustainable is a customer toleration strategy?



Working with Indesign Files

There are numerous factors to consider for the localisation of content in InDesign files. Any text that is formatted as an image (e.g. each letter is a picture) or any text within an image (such as words that cannot be selected) will need to be extracted manually. If only certain parts of the content require localisation, this would need to be isolated from the body of text. The layout of the document will need to be adjusted if the spacing is minimal as text normally expands when translated.  As each of the above points can be quite time consuming, we can help with file preparation to produce content that is easy to work with.

For the delivery of print ready files where we re-create the exact original document with the translations in place, all fonts and artwork will need to be sent to us. If we need to convert any Mac fonts as we work in a PC environment and we will find the most cost effective option if certain fonts cannot be converted. As our team consists of native speakers, all the final documents are reviewed to ensure that no language errors are present.


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.

Translating Training Programmes

Most of the training and development programs have in addition to content in Microsoft Word, presentations for translation on Powerpoint. When creating material such as tables and/or forms, it is important to consider if there is sufficient space as text will usually expand when translated. This point also applies to the Powerpoint presentations and will require additional time for editing/formatting.

We will work with you to create a project brief (for our teams to familiarise themselves with your company processes and/or equipment) and style guide (to understand your brand and tone of voice). A glossary of company specific terminology will be prepared; we are also able to extract these key words for each project which can be sent with the corresponding translations to you for approval. Should there be any preferential amendments to be made after the project has been completed, these can be done on bilingual Word documents so that any changes made can be captured in a bilingual doc to be saved in our system for future projects.

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.


Using external agencies to handle country specific marketing

Using external agencies to handle country specific marketing has major advantages such as industry knowledge, an extensive network of contacts and often adds higher levels of creativity to campaigns, however the costs are high, you will not have full control and the content would differ if different agencies are used for each country.

Localising your content with us would mean that you will be able to bring these costs down and we would work with you to create a style guide so that our specialist marketing team may understand your brand and tone of voice (for example when writing an email, there are so many different words which could be used to convey your message). Everything will be centralised for consistent approach and the copy will be assessed for cultural aspects and the most effective method for adapting the text for each country will be determined (is creative translation or transcreation required?). Most companies spend high amounts in producing their English copy and we believe that equal amounts of effort and care should be placed in the localised content as well to achieve strong international reputation.

Have you ever tried to translate a joke?

Have you ever tried to translate a joke!?

Take for example the Mia Wallaces tomato joke from Pulp Fiction:

“Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street. Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato. Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry. Goes back and squishes him and says: “Ketchup.”

If you don’t know that  ketchup sounds like “Catch up” in english, this joke would be even less funny than it actually already is…

For example in the german version they have tried to add a few words in order to explain that Papa Tomato punshes Baby Tomato until it becomes some kind of pulp (hahaha … “pulp” fiction … anyway …) but the “catch-up” part got totally lost. And apart from that also the lip syncro suffers.

The spanish version at least has the same amount of words, because they used “flatten” instead of “converting to pulp”. But the ketchup/ catch up issue still remains unsolved.

So it’s no surprise that for many audiences the ketchup gag remains quite tasteless.

In this case we are talking about a wordplay that needs something more than literal translation in order to keep up with the original. And just in case you live somewhere where ketchup is unkown, — for example with a mongolian tribe … it’s getting still harder and even impossible to translate.

Without similar cultural referenecs you may need to swap the idea of perfect fidelity and instead try to use something that kind of fullfills the same intention / function as the original text.

Something similar happens when it comes to SEO related translations. But more about that in my next entry!

Drei Tomaten gehen über die Straße. Vater Tomate, Mutter Tomate und Kind Tomate. Kind Tomate trödelt herum. Da haut Vater Tomate Kind Tomate zu Brei und sagt “KETCHUP!”

Tres tomates caminan por la calle. Papá tomate, mamá tomate y bebé tomate. El bebé tomate se despista y papá tomate se enfada muchísimo. Vuelve atrás, le aplasta y dice: Ketchup!

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.


CAT – how does it work?

Most of our localisation projects are not carried out directly on the source document (e.g. translating in Microsoft Word) but in the Xliff file format. We extract the text for translation automatically from Microsoft Excel, Word, Powerpoint etc. with our software to produce an Xliff for our team to work on. It is in the Xliff format which enables us to combine the text with your Translation Memory and Termbase for improved consistency and quality throughout. This format also enables us to separate any text that does not require translation with ease or if there is a lot of repeated content, the text will only be translated once and to be then applied to the entire file to save on time and associated costs. In addition to this we have a specialised tool for handling high volumes of frequently occurring text segments, this method has generated significant cost savings and reduced the workload for a number of our clients.

When the translation has been proofread, we convert this Xliff back to the original format to produce the exact source document with all the translations in place. The Xliff format is not editable once it has been produced (converted from the source document). If any amendments to the text are required we are only able to implement changes manually at the end when the final file is created.