2M Update – Website translation: five aspects worth thinking about

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Quite some time ago, an Australian company marketing their products in Europe engaged my services to translate some of their website content targeted at German buyers. Up until then, the company’s web pages featured quite rudimentary Google-translated information that, when I read it, had me break out in loud laughter at times… Imagine the “assembly” of building components being rendered in the sense of a United Nations Assembly (two completely different words in German) – just to name one of the more harmless examples. Another one had a strong and of course unintended sexual connotation…

Granted, since then, Google and other machine translation (MT) tools and plug-ins have come a long way, and professional MT engines that are particularly well developed in certain languages have found their place in the language services industry as well (we will touch on MT and postediting in one of our upcoming newsletters). However, these tools are certainly not free of blunders, bad grammar or wrong syntax. Correct sentences, accurate rendering and any stylistic subtleties that are so crucial in getting your message across to foreign cultures still need to be in qualified human hands. After all, we are talking about your image.

Many of you are already offering a range of information in foreign languages online – and if not, you might be thinking about it. Today, I’d like to give you some tips and pointers around website translation that you may or may not have considered so far.

1. Translation / localisation / globalisation – know the difference

More often than not, taking online content to a foreign language audience actually involves more than just “translation” (traditionally defined as the rendering of words and their meaning from one language to another). Wikipedia says it quite well: “Language localisation is the process of adapting a product that has been previously translated into different languages to a specific country or region […].”

In practice, and specifically in the context of websites, translation and localisation often happen at the same time and may involve anything from adaptations to website design features, over content adaptation suitable to market/country, to changing the currency in your online shop. Knowledge of the target culture is crucial so that local particularities can be considered.

Globalisation often precedes localisation and is particularly relevant to multinational organisations that are dealing in many different markets and are looking to standardise information and create frame works as part of their global strategy. This is often with the aim to keep any localisation tasks that happen later or in parallel to a minimum.

2. Design decisions

Provided your designer has chosen a capable Content Management System that facilitates the management of multilingual websites, here are just three aspects of design that I’d like to touch on and that are worth keeping in the back of your mind:


fonts etcSo, you have established that you should probably use a Unicode font. Unicode is the most widely used character encoding standard; it contains characters for most scripts and languages and is supported by all the common operating systems. But don’t just use any Unicode font for your Korean or Chinese website! Same as in English, some fonts in other scripts are more modern than others. Some may appeal more to younger audiences, others have a more “traditional” or “respectable” feel, and some may visually be suited better to your English font, which is an important aspect as well when you have both English and translated text appearing together on the same page. It’s worth doing some research in that regard so that your website is attractive – or simply ask us.

Text direction and length

Translating into Arabic, Farsi or Urdu? Don’t forget to allow for adjusted page layouts, as these and a number of other languages and dialects are written and read from right to left, and text is typically right-aligned. Placing of images, icons, embedded videos or a column layout will therefore most likely need to be adapted. In practice, the layout for such languages mostly looks like a mirror image of the English layout.
Also keep in mind that in many languages (e. g. French, Spanish or Vietnamese), what you want to say will likely be longer or wordier than in English. This means you need to have sufficient space available to place the translated text.

Link with flags – or maybe not?

Country flags are a very popular way to link from the primary-language website to the foreign language pages. It’s only logical – they are colourful, stand out, and even some quite funky looking ones are frequenting the World Wide Web. However, think about who your target audience is. Are you really only speaking to one country? Some people actually take offense having to click on the flag of a country they don’t live in or don’t belong to in order to get to information in their own language. So, more politically correct – and just as easy to find if cleverly placed – are links in form of (translated) language identifiers.

3. Web accessibility

This ties in very closely with your website design. An “accessible” website caters for people with disabilities; have your website meet accessibility requirements, and you are not only facilitating fair and equal access, but also increasing your reach. Accessible websites allow vision impaired people for example to have the information read out to them (using text recognition and screen reader software), or people suffering strong tremors to navigate a page, or hearing impaired people to understand videos because these include subtitles. This is already practiced by many organisations and actually part of the legislation in a number of countries. Our Australian government departments, too, have policies and guidelines in place.

For web content to be accessible, it needs to meet certain technical and design specifications. The use of colours is just one example; font size and document structure are others, and anyone involved in building websites will know there is so much more to it. The key message here shall be: Content offered in another language can be made accessible as well.

4. SEO

No question – for a website to be successful, it needs to be “findable”. So, whether you are talking to our many ethnic communities here in Australia, or to potential customers in overseas markets: Don’t forget the search engine optimisation for your foreign language pages. Key words and meaningful page titles can all be translated, too. Ensure the translation corresponds to how they appear in actual search results in the target country, and you will be optimising your reach. Read more in our blog post on international SEO.

5. Frequent content updates and interactive websites with social media

Imagine a website that is frequently updated with bits of information, e. g. announcements, current forecasts, event schedules or similar. Some organisations shy away from offering frequent content updates like this on their foreign language pages, and only provide them on their primary-language site, because they are worried about the involved time management and cost. A shame for the foreign language speaker! There are technologies though that allow for urgent and regular translations of this kind to be managed in a fast and cost-effective manner. It involves setup of a direct link between your CMS and translators dedicated to you. At 2M, we call this product 2M Connect – don’t hesitate to contact us to find out more about it.
Interactive websites including constantly changing social media content require a clever MT & postediting solution to ensure your multilingual versions are featured simultaneously and without breaking the bank.
As you can see, linguistics and the right technology, if combined with tailored handling, are a match made in heaven these days to ensure you are reaching your diverse target audiences either in overseas markets or here in multicultural Australia.

Written by Susanne Creak, General Manager of 2M Language Services.

Want your website translated ? Visit our website translation page.

Tea.Paris .June2014

2M Europe office back in full swing

Last week saw our CEO Tea Dietterich returning to our European Office in Paris. This week Tea is travelling to The Hague for the annual conference of the Association of Dutch Language Service Companies. Early October she will attend the ELIA ND in Tuscany (European Language Industry Association) and in November Tekom in Stuttgart together with GALA Chairman Robert Etches in charge of hosting the GALA Localization Stream.

Tea leaves the 2M Head Office in capable hands with an even stronger team after the latest winter recruit of Dutch born Tineke Van Beukering joining the project management team. Tea will dash home to Brisbane end of October to be a keynote speaker at the 2014 Biennial AUSIT Conference.

G20 – 2 months and counting…

The countdown is literally on and the most high profile international event staged in Australia is almost upon us. Having globethe G20 right on our doorstep, 2M has been involved in a variety of G20 related events and activities. Brisbane is now slowly becoming a household name in capital cities including Paris where you can find Brisbane billboards across the entire city.

2M is also closely working with the Brisbane City Council, ensuring that the Lord Mayor’s message gets across our culturally and linguistically diverse communities as well as internationally on the Lord Mayor’s business missions. The new multicultural and multilingual newsletter “One Brisbane, Many Cultures” is the latest passionate commitment of the Council towards their multicultural citizens.

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