A good content strategy is built around understanding who your customers are. This enables you to present your message in the best way possible. When it comes to website text, you’d better be speaking in the primary language of your customer.
If your customers and clients tend to be in the same region as you are, the idea of translating your website into different languages might seem over the top. A quick check of your weekly stats will show a few visits from Poland and Saudi Arabia, but they’re unlikely to be writing checks. However, when you consider that America has the world’s second largest Spanish speaking population, & in places like New Mexico, Spanish is spoken by over 40% of the people (with California not far behind,) you start to wonder if you’re missing an opportunity.
No ghost in the machine
Technology has come a long way and there are now several sites and plugins that will translate your site automatically for you – fantastic – install the plugin, hit translate and voila! – Global business here you come.
The thing about machine translation, actually, all translation come to think of it – is that you have no idea what your site now reads like in the foreign language. This is a big problem. The reality of machine translation nowadays is that it tends to make you sound like a three year old on acid.
Fish tank handbag shandy – Buy Me!
Your website is not like you on vacation where your charm and winning ways can get you past incorrect grammar and inappropriate noun selection. Your website has one opportunity to present your case and you’d better be relying on something better than a machine – an example from Scotland:
A fire brigade leaflet produced for Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service offering advice on how to escape from your home.
Written in English the text read,
“Never jump straight out of a window, lower yourself onto cushions”
This was translated into Urdu, the result was very interesting. It read…
“Never jump out of a window straight. Put yourself on a donkey and come down.”
You get what you pay for
It is better to have no translation than one that presents you as an idiot. If you’re thinking of offering your site in a different language because it is cheap to do, stop. Translation is a very human skill and as a result, you get what you pay for. Cultural nuances aside, grammar and spelling are just as important regardless of what language you present in; are you sure your assistant's second cousin who has been to Mexico is going to nail all that?
We recently launched a French version of a site we did for an international US corporation who wanted to consolidate their UK, French and Czech businesses. Although the French site used exactly the same architecture and code, it took several additional weeks to deliver due to linguistically derived modifications to the page text. Sometimes things that look good and read well in one language just don’t, literally, translate.
Work with Professionals
We recently had the pleasure of spending some time with Nathalie Schon, a professional translator with expertise in English, French, German and Italian. Originally from Metz, France, Nath manages to move round the world, working remotely for companies like Sony as she translates their movies from the beach in Hawaii. Our next two posts on translation will cover a recent interview we did with Nath on the challenges of website translation.
Make us laugh
Got any insane translation cock-ups you want to share – leave them in the comments below.