Translation and Localization

websitetranslation

So, you’ve built your company’s website.  The images look great. The text is professional, convincing, and perfectly polished.   All is well.  Except, of course, if you’re looking to expand into other markets.  Then, you’ll need to do it all over again, in another language.  But it’s not just about linguistic translation – you’ll also have to think about translation on a cultural level.

This may seem obvious.  For example, if you use Yahoo!, you’ve probably noticed that, in addition to major international news, the headlines on the site’s homepage tend to be focused around your home country or region.  If you haven’t noticed, check out one of Yahoo!’s other homepages, like their UK site.

It’s called “website localization” – adapting not only a site’s language to potential visitors, but also the content. It doesn’t just stop there, though.  There are subtle details that localization experts also pay attention to.  For example, did you know that while the color red usually means danger or heat in western cultures, for the Chinese, it symbolizes prosperity?  Or that Belgians will click on a website’s navigation tabs in half the time that Germans will?

But maybe these facts seem a little nitpicky to you.  Maybe your site’s layout, like Amazon’s, seems to work well no matter where your readers come from.  Still, you should beware: some pretty embarrassing mistakes have arisen when companies didn’t bother to think about localization.  This site is one of many that’s collected quite a few howlers.  Among my favorites is the slogan “Got Milk?” ending up as “Are you lactating?” in Spanish.

What can you do to avoid making blunders like this?  Here are some tips that might help:

  1. Ask questions.  Don’t just hire a translator because they speak the language; find out how well they know the culture or cultures you’re targeting.
  2. Do some research. Get some basic ideas about how your target audience’s popular websites look, by checking them out yourself (if you don’t know which websites are popular in the culture you’re targeting, do an online search for a list – you’ll probably get quite a few helpful results, from statistics, to in-depth articles).  You can also do a quick search to find information about basic marketing strategies for different countries.
  3. Remember that localization isn’t just about wording: even logos and design elements can be interpreted differently by different cultures.
  4. Be aware that even if your target audience speaks the same language as you, this may not include professional jargon.  For example, it’s vital for medical websites to be able to be clearly understood by laypersons.
  5. Get a proofreader.  It’s important to have your website’s texts be perfectly correct on a grammar and spelling level, of course.  But you might also consider getting a person from the culture you’re targeting to read the site and give their input. If you can, try to do this on a larger scale, getting hundreds of test readers to give their opinions.  If you don’t have a large budget, remember that you can pay people in other ways, like writing recommendations or testimonials on personal websites, accepting to be listed as a reference, etc.

Localization may not seem like an obvious thing to do when it comes to expanding your business’s presence on the web.  But it’s definitely important.  Luckily, with the right knowledge – and the right translator – your company can become a success in any market.

Alysa Salzberg

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