If you have a website and ambitions to reach additional audiences with your brand and messaging, you’ve probably heard words like localization and globalization. We’ll look into what they mean, and how they related to translation to foreign languages, perhaps the most critical activity to successfully “going global.” We’ll discuss localization, internationalization and globalization, explain their differences and the processes required to navigate to a globalized web presence that is the key to gaining international recognition for your brand.
Understanding the Terms Related to Website Translation and Localization
Let’s start by ensuring that we understand the key terms. Globalization is the goal: making your website as accessible as possible to a global audience by preparing it and adapting it to meet the linguistic needs and cultural expectations of foreign audiences. You need to “internationalize” your website by preparing it, in terms of templates, coding, and plug-ins to accommodate many local versions and to select them easily from a menu or by IP detection.
What is localization of a website? Localization is a process that you do one local market at a time. Localization definition starts with a translation of all text strings into the local language. It also involves adapting numeric and date/time formats as well as measurement and currency conversions. Perhaps most importantly, it also entails ensuring that the content is pleasing and appropriate to the local audience, including the “politeness” and formality of the language, the colors, and other visual cues. You want to be especially sure that there’s nothing offensive.
Finding the Best Website Localization and Translation Company to Help You
Website translation and software localization services are expert functions. What is a localization service? According to the World Atlas, “There are about 7,099 languages spoken in the world.” No one can be an expert in communicating to every location on earth. As a result of the widespread demand for these services, agencies have arisen which specialize in assembling teams of linguists and experts in various languages and cultures. These companies may have started out doing simply translation but many if not most have since broadened their offering to handle the broader task of localization. They take responsibility not just for the linguistic dimension but also client management, and all technical adaptations needed for efficient website localization. They bring cultural awareness to ensure that the content is appropriate. But how do you find the agency best for you?
1. Seek strategic consultation. The value of an agency is experience and expertise in global content marketing. They may have ideas about which languages and local markets should be your initial targets, and how best to approach them. A good website localization and translation service provider can help you find the best ‘angle of attack’ for capturing the attention of foreign audiences and enhancing their user experience.
2. Make sure the languages and locations fit. You probably have some idea of which regions and countries you want to tackle. Make sure the agency is experienced in those specific areas.\
3. Make sure the candidate agency does localization, not just translation. Some agencies claim both, but they don’t have the technical staff or software to localize efficiently. Ask detailed questions about this. Ask how they adapt color palettes to different markets and adjust layouts. Ask about their expertise in typography best suited to specific locations and content types.
4. Get a free quote by sending the link to your website and specifying what you need. They should respond within a day, usually within hours, with a specific price and schedule. Compare the word rate offered by several agencies. There may be several rates depending on the selected target languages, or they may give you a fixed price.
How Does Website Localization Take Place when Working with a Translation Company?
After your project goal is defined and a strategy mapped out, your chosen localization agency typically will assign an account executive to you. This person will become the primary liaison between you and the location- and language-specific teams who will do the actual translation and implementation. They may interact with your webmaster on technical issues and your content and marketing people on matters of language. You will probably have minimal contact with the translators, editors, and technical staff. But a good account executive will keep you updated daily about project progress and relay work products for your review and approval. Specific steps in the process include:
1. Structuring Data. Extracting all text strings for translation as well as isolating numbers, dates, measurement and currency units. There are programs for “scraping” web pages of their content, and for downloading website content. Let your agency worry about that.
2. Adapting Design. Your website may need to be adjusted to accommodate additional languages. For example, some languages have longer average word lengths than others so headlines and menus may need to be adapted. If you are going after right-to-left markets like Arabic-speaking countries, that factor needs to be taken into account.
3. Adapting Code. Programming code and templates may need to be adjusted, or multilingual plug-ins added to your content management system. There are also localization software and translation management software applications that may be used. Usually, this happens beyond the scenes unless you have a software company or mobile app maker that needs or desires hands-on access to these tools.
4. Translation and Conversion. This is done by expert linguists and domain experts for each language, often by discrete teams managed by your agency.
5. Quality Testing and Review. Quality Assurance is an integral part of the agency’s internal process. By the time you as the client see the localized website, it should be in excellent content.
(This is a summary version of the localization process and avoids additional steps that may be required by the mobile app localization and translations. Your project’s mileage may vary.)
What About Freelance Translators for Localizing Your Website?
The expertise of a translation and localization agency comes at a premium. There is a cost to be paid for the network of resources and the expert management of multilingual teams. For this reason, there is a temptation to work with freelance resources, language by language, rather than an integrated multilingual translation and localization service provider. Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com provide easy access to thousands of translation resources, each with a profile, ratings, rates, and reviews.
The advantages include having direct access and control over your translation resources, language by language. The cost will most likely be less than when working with a larger agency.
The disadvantages of the freelance route: More management overhead falls on your shoulders, and that takes your valuable time. This slows time to market. Further, many website translators are not experienced or capable of doing the localization aspect. Last but not least, you are vulnerable to the health and well-being of your hired web translator. If s/he or a family member gets sick, or they need to take a sudden trip, you’re out of luck.
Still, a middle ground worth considering is hiring a freelancer per language to check the work of the localization agency? This may involve an additional cost, but it will give you assurance that the work of your chosen agency in each language passes muster.
Lastly: even if you are budget-constrained, avoid the temptation to rely on machine translation. While online services like Google Translation and Microsoft Translator have improved in the quality of their translations in recent years, they still are no match for human linguists for complex content like those of websites. According to a research paper posted on ResearchGate, tense agreement is among the most common errors in machine translations. In translating from English to Spanish, a very common occurrence, it noted that “The errors due to bad tense amount to 15.1% of the total”.
PEMT or Post Edited Machine Translation may be an option, but with large volumes of text, this may be more costly than beneficial when a human translator is fully capable of completing the entire job from start to finish. Don’t cut corners on linguistic quality when you need to translate a website. The risk of embarrassment from the discovery of errors is simply not worth it!