Jun 18, 2015 Getting Website Translation Right
Your translator must be a native speaker of the target language. Let’s say you want a webpage translated from English to German. Who should do this—an American who is fluent in German, or a German who is fluent in English?
Answer: The German.
It’s a lot more challenging to write a language idiomatically than to read it. When Germans read what the American wrote, it will seem a little (or a lot) off. In contrast, the native German can have good enough English to know what she’s translating from.
Your translator must be a good writer. “Translation” is really writing a new document with the same meaning as the old one. Your German translator can’t translate better than she can write! She can’t just take your beautiful, elegant English text and “change it” to German.
For this reason, forget using a computer to translate anything on your site. Computer translation is great for helping you read documents in other languages—not for making documents in other languages.
Every good translation starts from a specific regional version of the language. There’s Mexican Spanish, Puerto Rican Spanish, South American Spanish, and (ahem) Spanish Spanish. And that’s an oversimplification. In fact, every widely spoken language has lots of local variation.
So how do you create one good, idiomatic translation for your Spanish pages?
Here’s what you don’t do: try to get them written in some kind of generic Spanish. Nobody speaks that language. In effect, you’ll be taking your native Spanish speaker and “de-nativing” him. He won’t be able to use his real writing skills, and the result will be bland and weak.
Here’s what you do do: Determine which Spanish-speaking region sends the most visitors to your site. Get a translator from there to write a lively, professional Spanish translation. Then you can replace regional words, phrases, etc. with more broadly used Spanish ones.
We recommend that you use a professional translation firm. A good firm has experience with all of the above issues, and has translators from multiple regions for the most widely spoken languages.
Nevertheless, it is important for you to know the backgrounds of the individual translators, and for you to evaluate their writing samples. This evaluation is another task for a native speaker from the region in question: you can send Mexican Spanish writing samples to a Mexican colleague.
Don’t underestimate the advantage of multiple languages! It is true that English continues to be the primary international language of business and politics. But businesspeople or consumers in non-English-speaking countries will think of you much differently if you show them well-written, idiomatic versions of your website in their native languages.
Even users in your home country will be impressed by a well-executed international site; they’ll get the message that your organization is global.
We encountered the challenges and rewards of website translation years ago when we developed the search tool Ixquick. Much of Ixquick’s continuing global appeal comes from its smooth functioning in 17 languages. (At Ixquick, these languages aren’t just for translation—each language produces different search results.)