There’s a lot of truth the to statement that we live in a global village. Technologies like the internet, social media, large-scale shipping, and commercial airliners have dramatically reduced the effective distance between countries and continents—facilitating communication, trade, and travel to an unprecedented degree. For businesses, this offers a world of opportunity to engage with prospective clients and customers all around the globe.
Nonetheless, entrepreneurs and businesses who hope to outfox their rivals need to ensure they’ve got the right tools in place. And one of the most crucial must-haves for enterprises looking to expand overseas is a website that offers comparable content and functionality in various languages.
If you’ve ever attempted to translate lengthy passages with Google Translate, you may have noticed that flaws tend to crop up in the English version. There are many reasons for this: certain idioms don’t work well in English, cultural concepts expressed in other languages are difficult to convey in English, the software fails to correctly distinguish one homonym from another or misinterprets the context of the sentence, etc.
Assuming you want the content of your business website to convey a comparable level of meaning and impact in multiple languages—including some that you don’t happen to speak at an advanced level—you should strongly consider hiring reputable, professional translators to assist you.
Before choosing a translation firm, do some research and try to find testimonials from past clients. Seek firms that either specialize in or have native proficiency in your target language. Ideally, the translators you hire will also possess specific cultural expertise, and have the ability to operate on a 24-hour cycle for time-sensitive assignments.
An anecdote: I have a friend who works at an organization that opted to switch from the translation company it had traditionally worked with, to an outfit that offered a lower price for (ostensibly) the same work. As a native speaker of the target language, my friend noticed that the lower-priced enterprise’s content was replete with mistranslations and other errors. Unfortunately, by that time it was too late; my friend’s organization had already ordered thousands of copies of their newly translated brochures. Although the errors were eventually corrected (with my friend’s help), her organization ended up wasting significant amounts of money, time, and paper.
The moral of the story is, be vigilant, and make sure you’re not sacrificing quality at the altar of a seemingly attractive price.
There’s more to effective translation than simply altering the words on your web page. Depending on the scale and importance of the target market, you’ll also want to consider ways to make your website’s content culturally relevant and appropriate for your new customers.
If certain imagery doesn’t work, messages in your original content are culturally specific and don’t transfer well to other countries, or for any reason your English-language material doesn’t address the needs and priorities of your target market, then the translation firm should be able to alert you to the problem and offer a viable solution.
As your dealings with international markets become more sophisticated, you may also want to select stock photos and symbols that are likelier to resonate with customers overseas. Furthermore, customers may feel more comfortable with your brand if they see a resemblance to themselves in some of the people whose likenesses appear on your website.
Watch out for possible issues with site architecture and navigation.
As you translate from one language to several others, you will inevitably find that the same content in different languages will occupy different amounts of physical space on the website. This can introduce problems with the layout of the pages, and the ability of visitors to navigate smoothly and efficiently.
This is one of several reasons why it’s important to run reasonably thorough quality assurance tests before you launch new content on a foreign-language version of your website.
Technical glitches are a fact of modern life, and problems will almost certainly arise with any major online translation project. But if you succeed at making inroads into lucrative foreign markets, you’ll be rewarded for your patience and perseverance.