Translating your website is usually one of the hardest challenges a translation worker can face.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the expression that doctors make the worst patients – well, I’m here to tell you that translators make the worst translation services clients, as well. If you’re in the language translation business and you’ve ever been hired by a peer to translate their website into another language, then you know what I’m talking about: We all think we know best, even when we’re not working in our familiar language pair.
Of course, part of the difficulty is the challenge inherent in translating web pages. They’re so difficult, sometimes, that I’ve seriously considered whether website translation ought to be considered a separate speciality, because simply language skills aren’t enough to translate a website effectively. A whole host of other skills have to be brought to bear in order to make the project a successful one – as well as the knowledge of languages and their behaviour that only a translator and linguist can bring to the table.
A Note on Notes
First, though, a plea: If you’re hiring someone to translate your website, please consider adding notes to your website to guide the translator. Anything and everything helps – the more information we have, the better job we’ll do. The more mysterious you leave things, the greater the chance that we’ll make some curious or even incorrect decisions. Some notes on what you intend each chunk of your site to do and how it’s supposed to work and explanatory notes on phrases or humour that might not be easily translatable will be the best work you can do on the project.
The particular challenges of translating a website all stem from the format and layout of websites: They are constrained. You spent some time designing and laying out your website, right? You created, essentially, a group of boxes and lists all filled with text. In instances when the target language matches the source language in terms of alphabet, spacing, and word length, this is no problem – most Romance languages, for example, will slide into each other’s layouts very easily indeed.
Not all languages use the same size characters and the same word lengths, however, and that means that a simply paragraph of text that fits snugly into a box on your English site, for example, may not fit at all when that paragraph is translated into Dutch.
And, of course, not all languages use the same alphabet. When brining a language using the western alphabet into a language like Japanese and Chinese, the different mechanics often mean there is a lot of trouble maintaining the layout and sense of the website.
Which brings us back to those notes: Explaining in detail what you’re looking for in your website text will help your translator to achieve those goals despite the challenges. It’s also a good idea to give them explicit permission to localise as needed for those instances when your text is hopelessly tied to your home culture.
Image courtesy interactiveexpedition.com