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.

Literal or localised – almost the same thing

Is a good translation a literal translation ?

Should your translated text say exactly the same things as the original ?

Localisation
Localisation – or the art of saying almost the same thing

I have had clients who tried to second guess my translations by looking for the source (english) wording in the target (french) sentence. They never find it and they end up questioning whether I’m saying exactly the same thing. And the answer is invariably: “Almost”.

If you want a literal translation, you don’t need a translator – any machine translation will do the job – but you won’t be understood either. There is a lot more to translation and copy writing than words. Local jargon, cultural knowledge, industry research, tone of voice, syntax – all of this falls under the term “localisation” and basically implies that the translation will convey the same meaning, in a similar tone as the source text, but no, it won’t say exactly the same.

I always use the example of the frog in your throat. In France, people complain of having a cat in their throat, and that’s how it should be translated to avoiding sounding odd. So, it’s almost the same, but not quite.

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.

Urgent, large translation projects

Urgent translation
Why you should avoid urgent translations

…and why you should try and avoid them

In our incredibly and increasingly fast-paced business environment, one of the first words many of my clients pronounce is invariably “urgent”. Associate it to “large” and, why not, “cheap” and you have found the ultimate recipe for disaster.

Admittedly, it is not unusual for a badly planned project to require an urgent solution to avoid missing out on major opportunities or wasting copious amounts of cash, and I for one have often been known to work late nights or weekends to help out desperate customers: last-minute customs requirements, unexpected opportunity, human error. It happens.

However, if you’re looking for a quality translation of your marketing material, contractual documents, book or magazine or anything that you have the chance to plan ahead, give your translator the time they need to think. Remember, their main working tool is their brain. Putting too much pressure on it is not a good way to extract the best results out of it.

Translation agencies often claim to be able to deliver enormous amounts of work and to meet impossible deadlines. More often than not, the way they achieve this is by splitting the text in several chunks and by assigning each chunk to a different translator. Even with the best procedures in place, consistency of terms and writing styles is highly likely to be a problem.

In the translation industry, projects are quantified by their wordcounts. As a ball park, any translator claiming to be capable of handling more than 3,000 words per day is either working very long hours or working too fast and they’re certainly not allowing any time for proof-reading – all scenarios likely to result in poor quality copy.

As goes the saying « I can’t afford to do things badly the first time », there’s little point in commissioning a translator if you’re not going to give them the chance to produce a quality translation likely to give you the results you hope for.