Translating and Interpreting for the Global Community
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For a truly global site, the steps found in the previous article,
Taking Your Site Multilingual provide a good preliminary outline.
However, there are more complex issues of localization as well
as other related issues that are important to keep in mind when
taking your site global.
Language Gateway -- Make it easy for users to find the multilingual
equivalent of your site. Even if you have separate foreign language
gateway pages, be sure to make the foreign language options clearly
visible from your original homepage as well. Not everyone who's
interested in these versions will find you through the foreign
language gateway pages, not to mention the fact that having a
multilingual, multicultural site lends your company or organization
an air of prestige and worldliness. And don't bury the choices
under "Corporate Info – International Operations"
or the like. Have the language names, or better yet, country names
prominently displayed and if space is limited, use a drop-down
or other such tool.
Font Issues -- Most languages have some kind of characters or
letters that are in some way different from the alphabet used
for English, whether it's French with accented letters, or Russian
with its Cyrillic alphabet or character-based Asian languages.
Roman-alphabet languages such as French or German and Cyrillic-alphabet
languages, such as Russian or Ukrainian are fairly easy to deal
with; as long as you have coded the site for the right language,
the user's browser should recognize it and display it correctly.
Character-based languages such as Chinese and Japanese are what
is known as double-byte languages and are more complicated. When
working with them, in addition to specifying the special character
set in the HTML code, you must also download special browser support
to be able to view the pages. Microsoft Internet Explorer versions
5.0 and higher have "install on demand" and automatically
prompt you to download this support. However, to really be able
to work with the material and actually program, you need the native
Operating System (e.g. Japanese Windows) or alternately a stand-alone
program that allows you to do word processing and data entry in
the foreign language.
Cultural Issues -- While this was touched on briefly in the previous
article, it bears repeating and emphasizing. There is a lot more
involved with making your site global than just translating its
text. The content itself as well as every detail of the site's
appearance needs to be examined for its appropriateness and appeal
to the target culture. Even something as basic as the color-scheme
of your site is critical – for example, while white is the
color of purity in the U.S., it is the color of mourning in Eastern
The writing style is a factor as well. Most content on a website
is of a marketing or advertising nature and it is still true that
the kind of language and style used in the U.S. is less formal
than is used in a lot of other countries. Choice of graphics is
important as well since icons and ideograms do not convey the
same meaning or idea to all people. The trash can used on MACs,
for example, looks very much like a British postal box, a problem
that originally caused some Brits to "throw away" email
they were intending to send. Use of photographs must also be taken
into consideration – a photo of a woman smiling without
covering her mouth would be considered suggestive in Japan. There
are myriad cultural issues to address with text translation alone
and the addition of the visual effects that exist with a website
increases this number greatly. An experienced localization team
or company can guide you through these potential pitfalls gracefully.
Technical Issues -- There are technical issues of a localization
nature as well. A main such issue is currency. If you display
prices on your site or even reference dollar amounts in any way,
this is a consideration. Similar concerns are measurements and
time and date formatting – most of the rest of the world
represents dates as DD/MM/YYYY as opposed to the U.S. MM/DD/YYYY.
If you have a contact form on your site for people to fill out,
consider that postal addresses across the world do not follow
the same conventions. Even an issue such as bandwidth limitations
is worth keeping in mind – if your site is graphics- or
flash-intensive it may have problems loading in areas where bandwidth
is more limited.
If all of this information has your head spinning, relax. There
are ways to simplify the process the most obvious of which is
working with a professional translation/localization company who
will worry about all of these issues for you. Another tactic is
to take pieces of the information on your site and create some
"simplified" pages that you can then localize. If your
original site has a lot of information containing any of the above
issues, e.g. a timeline of your company with numerous dates, don't
include those kinds of sections in the simplified version.
In addition to the above-described localization issues, there
are a few more important items to keep in mind, outlined below.
Plan for how updates and changes to your site will be handled.
In keeping with the above suggestion, if you create a new version
of your site with only parts of the information from your existing
site, don't include those sections that are updated and changed
frequently. If your site is unusually large or very text intensive
you may want to consider a software program that automatically
and regularly reviews the site to identify sections and materials
that have changed.
As far as having these changes translated is concerned, you can
establish a contract with the translation or localization company
that localizes your site to handle them. Or, depending on the
nature of the material that is being changed, you can consider
investing in Machine Translation, or translation software. If
the kinds of changes are minimal and the text involved is fairly
simple this can be an effective tool as long as you have some
mechanism in place for having the Machine Translated material
Don't forget that if you reach out to the rest of the world
via your website your hope is that the rest of the world will
then respond in some way and you need to be prepared for this.
Plan for this from the outset and establish a mechanism for handling
incoming calls in foreign languages. If this is too complex for
your situation, establish a means for handling incoming emails
in foreign languages as well as means for responding to them and
indicate on your site that you don't have the ability to handle
foreign language phone contact. Consider having some of your print
collateral translated as well so that you have something to send
those that indicate they are interested in receiving more information.
And of course, if you intend to sell directly from your website,
you need to consider a whole slew of international e-commerce
There are four main concerns to address when contemplating international
e-commerce: payment practices, payment acceptance, currency conversion
Payment practices are not the same all over the world. In the
U.S. most purchases are made using credit cards, but this is not
a common practice everywhere. In Germany, for example, goods and
services are often purchased using bank transfers. In Japan, COD
and bank transfers are most popular – a very small number
of consumer transactions are conducted with credit cards. Thus,
your payment acceptance mechanism needs to take these difference
practices into consideration.
An effective way to address international payment acceptance
is by using a third-party payment gateway service. This is an
online service that your customers would go through when it comes
time for them to make payment. When choosing, look for one that
has the ability to show pricing in multiple currencies but pays
you in U.S. dollars, one that accounts for calculation of shipping,
tax/VAT and other global charges and is able to give your customer
a total final price, and finally, one that takes the different
accepted payment practices into account.
If you intend to address currency conversions yourself, there
are two main approaches. The first, which makes sense especially
for B2B e-commerce is building the risk of exchange rate fluctuations
into your price and only updating the posted amounts monthly or
even quarterly. The second approach is to run software that will
update your prices daily based on the fluctuations.
Finally, if you are selling a product that will ultimately need
to be shipped internationally you must address issues of regulation,
mainly related to shipping and distribution. An approach here
might be to establish a relationship with a local distributor
with whom you can work out any necessary custom costs and regulations
The success of a multilingual web presence rests on effectively
addressing all of the issues described here. And now that you
have all the information you need to make your site truly global,
there is still one thing left to do – promote it!
Just as you promote your existing website, you also need to
promote the new multilingual versions of it as well. While many
US search engines maintain international directories, you will
also want to get listed with international search engines as well
as local foreign search engines and indexes. The top international
search engines, as compiled by The
Search Engine Watch, are:
For an exhaustive list of foreign search engines, visit:
Also consider registering your domain name in foreign countries,
a move which can help you list better with foreign search engines.
There are currently 184 active country codes (e.g. .de for Germany
and .cn for China), and while most of them are restricted and
require a local presence and or specific legal documentation in
order to register with them, many do not.
The other methods of website promotion apply here too. Banner
ads can be placed on popular foreign sites and strategic linking
from foreign sites can be done as well. Other ideas include press
releases, direct mail, print advertising and advertising in cyber
cafes, which are much more common in Europe.
The process of globalizing your website can be as simple or complex
as you choose to make it, but the bottom line is that any effort
you make will go a long way towards demonstrating your open attitude
towards other cultures and international business.
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