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A Guide to Good Translations

Posted on 1.01.2013

As the Internet becomes fully engrained in all aspects of people’s lives, the race to meet the demands of, and connect with, users is at an all-time high. And as Web workers, we see progress happening all around us. In one area, however, the Web is failing to connect with a substantial amount of users — more than 1.7 billion, in fact.

This is the number of non-English speaking Internet users (73 percent) that cannot connect with more than half of the material available on the Internet, because it is in English. Clearly, this is disproportionate, as only 27 percent of Internet users are English speakers, but 56 percent of the material is targeted to them.

With these numbers, as well as global expansion in mind, business owners turn to the many individuals and companies that offer translation services. But good translations do much more than just replace one set of words for another, they actually convey the feeling and tone that the original text captured. If the translation is awkward or sounds unnatural, the reader will probably move on to another site, very quickly. So it is very important to work with an experienced company, which has a pool of linguists with the right education and experience to craft a translation that reflects the hard work and professionalism that was put into creating the original text.

Additionally, careful consideration needs to be made in determining the unique needs and characteristics of the market a website targets. This is where localization comes into play.

Regional Dialect Matters

In order to compete in the global marketplace you need to build a connection with potential clients through interactions. While communication is usually a two-way street, a website only has one chance to capture readers’ attention. So, your content must speak directly to readers in words they are comfortable with. This is where straight translation falls short. There are many countries that speak Spanish, but each one has different locally used words, which may sound awkward or even offensive in another country. This is true for other languages, as well. It is also important to consider the region and target sector within that market or your message may meet an unresponsive or even worse, an offended audience.

Aside from the stylistic and cultural challenges, there are also technical challenges to creating multilingual websites that truly speak to your target market.

Technical Challenges

Databases and content management systems (CMS) are useful tools that can help your website personalize the interaction between the site and the user. If the site was designed in English, the database may have portions of sentences that can be put together to create a unique experience for the user. The challenge is that each language has its own structure, grammar and syntax, so that if you just translate what is in each cell, the end product may be illegible. Another factor is that many languages have masculine and feminine words, which change the articles and endings on words. So, based on the subject and the sentence, different endings and articles will need to be applied to most of the words. The number of items you are talking about also changes the endings of words in many languages.

Design Details

Design and layout also must be considered, not only to accommodate the language, but also for general appearance and color schemes. When designing the layout and text placement, keep in mind that when translating to other languages, the volume of text will change. With many languages, the total number of words can increase by about 20 percent, so allowing for extra space from the beginning will help. There are also languages that are written from right to left, creating another design challenge.

If your website contains videos with people speaking in them, you need to be sure you do the voiceover using someone from the region you are targeting. The accent from Spain is very different than the accent from Chile. In order to build the connection to the listener you want the voice to sound familiar and comfortable. Mannerisms also matter. In Bulgaria, shaking your head side to side means yes and nodding it up and down means no.

All of the above mentioned ideas are collected under the label “localization,” which is adapting a website’s content to the culture to that of the target market. At a minimum these are some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration for a successful localization process:

1. Language. The language must be adapted to match the region you are targeting. Many countries speak the same language, but culture and region play a big part in how people communicate.

2. Numbers and punctuation. Whether you are writing about the temperature or simply writing a number, you need to put it in a format that will make sense in your target market. For example, in English, we separate thousands by commas (e.g. 2,500). However, in many other languages, they are separated by periods (e.g. 2.500).

3. Design and layout. When you are laying out text within artwork in English, you need to calculate for spacing, as often times the text will expand or contract when translated into other languages. Also, many cultures view color usage as having different meanings and that needs to be taken into account, as you don’t want to send the wrong message.

4. Time. Localization takes time. Choosing an agency with the right software, people and experience will allow your newly crafted messages to reach their intended audiences in a shorter time.

Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. By utilizing these localization and translation best practices, you’ll take a vital step toward growth in this dynamic global economy.

About the Author: Chad Orr is the Vice President of Link Translations.

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