Translating a website – some practical advice

A number of surveys have shown that we soak up information in our own language to a much greater extent than in a foreign language, even if we believe that we have good knowledge of the foreign language in question.

A website in multiple languages creates new opportunities for your business, and also increases the chances of customers finding you through search engines. Beginning the process can be a little daunting though, with that in mind here’s some helpful tips.

Start by asking yourself the following questions, to give you a nice platform to work from:

  1. Does your web publication tool include language management support?
  2. Which languages do you want your website to be translated into?
  3. Should all pages be translated into all languages?
  4. Is there text contained in images, PDF files, buttons or fields that needs to be translated?
  5. Are you happy with the source text?

1. Does your web publication tool include language management support?

Find out whether the tool can deal with multiple language versions of a page. Can it export text and import translations? Can it cope with languages with extended characters and languages that read in directions other than left to right? Examples of extended characters include ø ë Þ Ü Ç and ñ, and are used in languages such as Czech, Polish, Chinese, Russian, Greek, Arabic and Persian.

2. Which languages do you want your website to be translated into?

Before sending the text for translation, you need to decide which language version suits your website. Should British or American English be used? Canadian French? Latin American Spanish?

If you are unsure which language is spoken in the region you want to reach, Ethnologue is an excellent resource.

3. Should all pages be translated into all languages?

Should you translate every page into every language, or is it enough to select certain pages for translation? Certain pages may need to be in all languages, while others may only be relevant to some of your site visitors. Are some of your products or services not available in specific regions, for example? You should also think about whether any pages need to be added in the languages to be translated into, such as an adapted summary of your operations.

4. Is there text contained in images, PDF files, buttons or fields that needs to be translated?

The translation agency will want editable original files, if you have them. Translation agencies can work with files in all possible file formats: .xml, .html, properties, InDesign, Illustrator, AutoCAD, etc. You should never need to copy-paste the text to supply it to an agency. If in doubt, ask your agency first.

5. Are you happy with the source text?

You should also take the opportunity to review the original text. If you’re unhappy with the original text, translation probably won’t make it any better. If anything is wrong, unclear or clumsy sounding, these problems have a tendency to be amplified when translated. So allow some time to review the text and make any changes before sending it for translation. Writing for translation takes a bit of careful thought but it’s fine to ask your translation agency for help and advice if you need it.

Not sure where to start?