What you need to know about website and software translation

It seems easy, right? You download all the text, send it to someone who speaks French for translation, they send it back and you or your web designer or programmer can simply upload it all back onto your website or software files.

Oops, the web programmer doesn’t speak French. This is going to make it difficult for them to know what to do with which part of the copy, buttons, error messages etc. Mmm, and now the translator is spending way too long on proofreading and is probably going to charge you extra. Not to mention the potential for error due to all the back and forth emailing and editing. And who is going to do all the testing in a foreign language? And now you’re getting emails in French from people who don’t understand your website or worth, have ordered products from a system that doesn’t work…

Choose a professional translator who has worked on website translation before. Better still, choose a professional translator who understands html

If your translator is used to working with CMS or html, their translated copy will be geared up to take into account the web designer’s work. Better still, they can probably upload the copy to the site themselves and proofread as they go, drastically reducing the potential for errors.

You may not need to translate it all. But you may need to add to it.

By targeting a different country, you are targeting a different culture and using a different currency (read my post about increasing your customer base by reaching for a neighbouring market). Some of your products may not apply. Some of your promotions may needs enhancing. Some of your jargon and branding may need adapting (read more about localisation).

If you’re keen to keep the cost down, consider which pages of your website are the most relevant or likely to appeal to your new customers, and start off with them. There will always be time to translate or localise the rest of your website at a later date. Perhaps you’re attending a local exhibition and need a landing page relating to the event? Maybe you’re hoping to enthuse a new market to your best seller? Or you’re only looking for local dealers at this stage?

Whatever your goal, remember that this is not just translation, it’s not just a new flag on your website, it’s the creation of the tool which you are hoping to present to your new market, it’s the information which you will be sharing countless times with prospective clients, it’s your shop window.

To make sure you get it right, choose the right language partner.

What to look for in a translator

translator

What to discuss with your language provider to make sure you get the best from your translation service

Anyone considering communicating with foreign clients in any way – by means of a website, advertising campaign, social media, PR, blog or any form of commercial activity – should have full confidence in their language provider. Since you will be leaving them in charge of talking to foreign clients on your behalf, it goes without saying that you should check out your translator’s credentials in order to avoid major mishaps.

Read on to make sure you know what to look out for.

Where are they from? Where do they live ?

It’s not rocket science, but we’ll never say it enough : it is best to work with a person whose native language is their target language, ie the one they’re translating into, because growing up speaking a language is the only way to fully grasp it. This is the number one industry standard that you should adhere to, even if you decide to ignore every other piece of advice.

It is sometimes argued that translators should be based in the country of their target language, too, but the argument is a little flawed: it would be difficult, at best, to reach a decent grasp of another language without spending sufficient time reading it, listening to it and speaking it with native speakers. And where is the best place to do that?

It is true however that translators should keep in touch with their native language, so you might want to ask them how they go about that (for example, I live in the UK, but I read in French, watch French TV and listen to French radio, and I speak French to my kids).

Are they qualified ?

Seems kind of obvious now we mention it, right ? Believe it or not, being bilingual doesn’t make someone a good translator. The specialist skill of translating is learned through studying, experience, mentoring, or a combination of all of the above. In the UK, you can look for qualifications such as the CIoL’s Diploma in Translation or the ITI qualified membership. In the US, the ATA’s certification is the most common qualification. If they’re not qualified, how much and what type of experience do they have?

Are they specialised?

Think of a translator’s specialisation as their second set of skills. It’s all jolly well and good being able to speak and write in more than one language, but you need to have an idea of what you’re talking about. The clients’ requirements and objectives are not the same for a legal document as they are for a marketing campaign or a book. So, have they translated anything similar before and how much do they already know about your industry?

SEO

If your copy is written with the objective of influencing traffic towards a website, the translator needs to have a reasonable understanding of how search engines work and they need to know what keywords you’re banking on. So, look for a translator / copywriter who knows how search engines work and is experienced in incorporating keywords to their copy in a natural way.

Quality control

Even the best translators can get square-eyed from looking at the same text over a long period of time, and they’ll be the first to admit the importance of proof-reading. Proof-reading is best done either after a few days not looking at the copy, or by a different reader. It’s a good idea to discuss options with your provider. If you’d like them to proof-read their own work, make sure they have enough time to do it properly. They may suggest their own proof-reader (make sure you clarify who is paying for their time) or leave it with you to manage (read my article on the challenges of proof-reading someone else’s work).

Confidentiality

It should go without saying that any document entrusted by a client to their translator should not be shared with anyone else but for added peace of mind, you can ask them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Choosing a Language Provider

Translator, copywriter or translation agency ?
Translator, copy writer or translation agency ?

Freelance translator, copy writer or translation agency: what are the pros and cons?

Whether you’ve made a conscious decision to expand your business overseas or whether foreign clients have approached you with an opportunity you can’t refuse, it is important to choose the right language partner for your international business venture. Your translator will be responsible for all your communications with foreign markets and you will have little means of checking their work : needless to say, you should have full confidence in their skills and reliability.

Let me attempt to explain the main differences between the language providers, their way of working and to list the pros and cons of working with them.

The Translation Agency

Like any middle-man, they sometimes have a role to play. A good translation account manager will aim to understand the objectives, the ethos and the tone of your business and your brand, to find and brief the translator(s) on the project, to ensure consistency across all translations and to make sure the translated documents are delivered in time. More importantly, they will control the quality of the copy by checking the credentials of the translators they work with, by organising appropriate proof-reading and by implementing their own quality control procedure. Finally, they are in a better position to handle urgent and large projects by involving several translators at once (although this may affect the consistency of the results – read my article on why it’s best to avoid urgent and large translation projects if you can help it).

PRO’s : less work for you, access to a large pool of translators and proof-readers, fast work with a broad range of file formats

CON’s : more expensive, less control

The Translator

The translator delivers the work – which is kind of key, right? Cutting-out the middle man can have many advantages: cheaper translation fee, less potential for miscommunication and more control. However, their ability to manage the whole project and to handle certain file formats (such as web files or graphic files) can greatly vary from one translator to another, and it will pay to check their procedures and their capabilities before entrusting them with a large project. Finally, working with one person is a good way to ensure greater consistency across your documents : a good translator will aim to become an expert in your products and services by asking many questions at the beginning of your relationship (if possible, invite them to spend some time with you so they can gain a better understanding of your business).

If you’re happy to do the leg work (such as transferring web content into a Word document for them to access) and to be a little more patient, this can be an excellent and economical arrangement.

PRO’s : cheaper, more control, better contact and knowledge of your product and industry

CON’s : more work for you, potentially slower, file formats accepted will depend on the provider

The copywriter

If you are looking for a truly localised text, you might need to consider the benefits of working with a bilingual copy writer rather than a translator. What’s the difference ? I hear you say. A translator will convert your English (or other source language) text into the target language (French, in my case), aiming to remain as faithful as possible to the original whilst making sure the result makes sense. A copy writer will read your brief, understand your objectives, carry out their own research and write relevant copy directly in the target language. If you’re nervous about not understanding it, you can always ask for what’s know as a back-translation, but beware that it is totally normal for the grammar and syntax of a back-translation to be a little weird. You can read my French expressions page to understand why…

PRO’s : Potentially higher quality, copy will be truly localised and relevant to your objectives in the target market

CON’s :  Generally more expensive, you may not understand the text or have to pay for a back-translation

Machine translation

Generally not a good idea, unless your contact is completely aware that you’re using a machine and that they should therefore take the result with a pinch of salt. Not convinced ? Try this.

A guide to formal French

Formal French
Business French

Turn your school French into formal French

If you’ve read my “Business in France” pages, you now know that making an effort towards speaking some of your French contact’s language will go a long way to making or breaking the deal. I’ve compiled a list of expression that will sound slightly more formal than your school French. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the words : whilst remembering any of these may get you some brownie points, the simple fact that you’re trying will undoubtedly be appreciated.

Add “Monsieur” (Sir) or “Madame” (Madam) to your greetings for an instant touch of formality
“Bonjour Madame”
“Bonjour Monsieur”

If this is your first meeting, or if you’ve just been introduced to someone new, simply say:
“Enchanté” (Nice to meet you).

If you’ve met before, you may add something along the lines of “How are you?”
“Vous allez bien?”
or, if you know each other well, the more casual
“Ça va?”

Formalise your “Thank you”
Rather than “Merci”, try “Je vous remercie”.

To take your leave and wish them a good day
“Je vous souhaite une bonne journée”.
And you may also add :
“À bientôt”. (See you soon)

Stay away from your school days clichés (the only people I have ever heard pronounce the word “Sacrebleu” in my lifetime were either English or senile), and you’ll be on your way to a decent business conversation.

The rise of Googlisms

My thoughts on automated translation

Since I swapped a comfortable in-house translator’s seat for the altogether more wobbly one of a freelance translator a few years ago, I have had to be a lot more involved in the sales and marketing function of my own business.  This hasn’t been an uninteresting path and, amongst other new challenges, implied spending a lot more time researching potential clients’ branding and marketing. It was during one of these browsing journeys that I met a new competitor and growing stakeholder of our industry: Google translate.

 

Of course I was already aware of its existence and its, well… prowess! I’d always conveniently dismissed it as irrelevant and unimportant. “Decent companies”, I foolishly thought, “see right through it. They know the importance of a proper translation because they respect their foreign audience”.

 

My recent discovery doesn’t therefore reside in the outrageous results produced by automatic translation systems, or even in being introduced to GT’s fellow fraud: the “French speaker in the office” (capable of equally unintelligible content). No, the terrifying new fact for me was the realisation that, not only do some businesses consider automated translations a real alternative to professional ones, but worse, readers are willing to accept such abysmal wording as a perfectly acceptable language and may even learn from it and incorporate the new syntax in their day-to-day speech.

 

The first time I heard a fellow French expat refer to the fact that “il devait s’asseoir avec son patron” (literally, “sit down with his boss”), I thought it thoroughly unfrench, yet funny. The second time a French waiter at a local pub found himself “occupé à mopper le floor” (“busy mopping the floor”, with the English word declined according to French grammar!), I kind of half-smiled.

 

Coming across “la côte Poole belle”, however, threw in a different kind of spanner in the works. It seems Pooletourism.com think it sufficient to simply direct any foreign traffic to Google translate, who will promptly and automatically regurgitate the entire website in Franco-gibberish.  Amongst the resulting rubbish (excuse the pun), French locals and tourists alike have grown accustomed to modifying GT’s grammatically incorrect translation of “the beautiful Poole coast”, jokingly turning it into “la cote poubelle” (the dustbin coast). I have tried contacting Poole tourism about it but, in line with the rest of the service, a beautifully automated answer phone has been informing me that “there is nobody available to take your call”…

 

Give it a proper go!
My recent discovery doesn’t therefore relate to the outrageous results produced by automatic translation systems, or even to being introduced to Google Translate’s bedfellow, the “French speaker in the office” (capable of equally unintelligible content). No, the terrifying realisation for me was that, not only do some businesses consider these translations a real alternative to professional ones, but  they are then quite satisfied that their attempt at international marketing was sufficiently conclusive to dismiss foreign markets’ potentially large revenue on that single basis.

 

If you rely on a British saying involving peanuts and monkeys, Google Translate is top-ape. Admittedly, the fact that it is seemingly free is an appealing factor in the current recession. But consider this: if you have spent time, effort and often copious amounts of money on your branding, advertising and PR (and I’m not even counting your staff’s precious hours whilst they fiddle with the Google Translate interface!), can you really run the risk of it being mistranslated? Let’s imagine that you have made a large investment in a five-star chef, a modern kitchen and fresh ingredients in order to put together an amazing menu for your guests. Would you then hire volunteer and untrained staff to serve it to them?

 

Is Google boss ?

Part of the problem lies in the confirmation that Google itself gives of the existence of a term it has created, by incorporating it to other websites translated in the same way.  How many times can you question “press folder” (literal translation of “press pack”), before you accept that you, along with most marketing professionals and as many dictionaries, are just suffering from acute memory loss and start using it with your fellow PR specialists? And will they follow suite and start using it in turn?

 

I’m sure I speak for most translators when I report my puzzlement after searching for a term in my target language, only to find that the mistranslation is taking over the net to the point where it is near impossible to determine which one is correct. And at that stage, is it still a mistranslation, or does it become acceptable?

 

Of course we will all agree that a language must evolve and adapt, and some might even argue that if an expression, be it a mistranslation, is commonly accepted and used, then it becomes correct (not unlike the world famous Tarte Tatin became a delicacy after it was a cooking error). But upon further investigation, it seems it takes a particularly good error to make it in the dictionary. In the meantime, only human brains are capable of realising that the New Forest should not be translated as “la nouvelle forêt”.

 

I find this conclusion reassuring as it should mean that machines won’t take over for some time yet and that Google is, contrarily to some online announcements, definitely not God. At the risk of enriching our vocabulary with a new word, our translation community, as well as the multi-lingual business world, should consider the following question: we were always warned against the dreaded “faux-amis”, should we now beware the somewhat sneakier “googlisms”?

 

 

FRENCH and back:
> Google Translate est la transformation de langues?
> Google Translate is the transformation of languages?
SPANISH and back:
> ¿Está Google Traductor transformar idiomas?
> Is Google Language Translator transform?
GERMAN and back:
> Ist Google Translate Umwandlung Sprachen?
> Is Google Translate transformation languages?