How should I translate site text for my web presentation?
To translate site text can be a particularly challenging task for a translator. There are a number of reasons for this. Many web sites are made with a specific purpose in mind: to get someone to do something, even if it is only to read it. But unlike many texts, it will be read by such a range of different people, and you must appeal to the right ones, each in the right way.
A site is written for a particular audience. In translating it, you are usually aiming to deal with a new set of people who have a different cultural background. They may not like the way the original site is written, or respond to it in the way you would like.
Halifax Web Team is a group of translators who enjoy the challenge. They are chosen both for their translation experience and their creative skills. See why below.
What is special about translating a web site?
Web sites are special. The text and the design have two distinct purposes:
- to have a potential reader find the site through a search engine
- to get the reader to stay on the site and take specific actions (like buy a product or provide information).
These two purposes can require quite different texts. For the first, specific words and phrases are required, and an understanding of search engines is useful to get the right ones. For the second, a persuasive mixture of text and images is needed.
The art lies in unifying the two. To do this, it is not enough to find a list of commonly used search terms, or to check what advertising messages are in common use. You have to know the language you are using well, and the culture of the people who will read in that language. You also have to be a skilled creative writer.
How does this affect web site translation?
As with all translation, when you translate site text you must keep in mind the specific text’s purpose. For the site to achieve its aims, you must also know the potential readers, their culture, their way of thinking, the kind of language they are used to, and the style that will most appeal to them. This is different for each nation and language, and often different for population sub-segments.
This means that straightforward translation of a text, however accurate, may not work in a new language, however well the original worked. To find out what will be effective when we translate site text, a carefully analytical approach is required. You must clarify the purpose and decide what part of the original text is suitable and what must be re-formulated or even radically changed.
To translate site text thus requires considerable analytical skills together with great creativity in writing. For this, the rather un-lovely word ‘trans-creation’ is sometimes used.
Are there other things to bear in mind when you translate a web site?
Yes. Keep in mind when you translate site text that the ‘potential reader’ may cover several different people in a single process. Each of them may need a different approach to get their attention. This can be illustrated by a story.
Gizmos or gadgets?
Imagine your company sells gizmos. Now imagine a decision-maker: Guðrún, an over-worked executive currently at the Lisbon branch of another company that produces something that uses gizmos in the production process. This company is a natural client for you.
Guðrún has had a stressful day of meetings and worked late, picked up twins José and Beatriz from aunt Emily, dragged them complaining through the supermarket, made dinner and spent some ‘quality time’ with them. Now it is late at night and she is skimming the internet, searching for that crucial gizmo the company desperately needs, as she does not trust her technical chief on this issue.
Her attention span is short. When Guðrún lands on your site you have a fraction of a second to catch her attention before she clicks back to the next site on her search. It seems you have got it right, she is pausing on your home page. Now, you have a few seconds to confirm that you can provide just the right gizmo. Your text must be simple, accurate and convincing in a way that Guðrún immediately understands.
You have made a good home page, Guðrún thinks you may be the right supplier. She flicks over a couple of product pages, makes a note, switches off and goes to bed. The next morning she catches the head of the technical department at the coffee machine: “Hey Joe, check out this site and see if it’s any good”.
Joe is reluctant, he prefers gadgets to gizmos, and he is about to retire to Tuscaloosa, so the company’s future is not his most pressing concern. But she’s the boss. He takes one look, sighs and gives the task to Günther, a junior engineer. Günther has an advanced degree from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in the workings of gizmos and gadgets, no managerial experience , zero decision-making power. But he knows of Joe’s dislike of gizmos and wants to keep his first job. If Guðrún is to buy your gizmos, Günther must be convinced.
Günther goes straight to your product description. This gives him all the data needs to decide your gizmo is fit for purpose. You have set it out nicely so he can make a clear report with a minimum of effort. It is written in his technical language, not management speak. He writes a positive memo to Joe, copy/pasting from your page.
Joe is not best pleased, but the facts are clear. He grunts and sends it on to Radmila, the head of finance. He is sure she will bin it, as gizmos are expensive things and she is grouchy. She is also over-worked and thinking of her weekend with the grandchildren in Bratislava and besides, she resents these over-confident young Nordics coming and playing boss. Radmila goes straight to your prices page. She has long experience in procurement: any evasiveness about the price will ring alarm bells. Fortunately, your page sets out the prices in unmistakable terms, and explains discount mechanisms and guarantees succinctly, in terms a procurement officer is used to. The price is not cheap, but affordable, and there seem to be no hidden issues. Radmila grunts and texts Guðrún: “no objection to gizmo”.
It’s getting late. Guðrún is occupied with a visit from Japan, the annual report to the board, a flagship project that seems to be sinking, her ex-husband’s lawsuit against her and the head lice Beatriz picked up in school. She grabs her phone just as the guests walk in, thrusts it to her secretary Jamilla and says: “Find that gizmo and see if they can deliver tomorrow, before you bring the coffee!”
Jamilla hurries to find your site and immediately sees your well-expressed delivery deadlines. Your working hours are over but you still take calls: there is a well-placed button: “Call now”. Jamilla calls.
This is just one story, a European one. but even though European cultures are mutually similar compared to other parts of the world, you can see how success can depend upon expressing the right thing to the right person in the right way in the right place.
This is why a web site can be challenging to translate. You must be sure your translator is both analytical and creative, knows the new site language and culture well, is skilled at expressing concepts briefly, and can ask you all the right questions.