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When You Can’t Translate Everything: Successfully Managing Language Expectations

by John Yunker | August 27, 2014 | Comments Off on When You Can’t Translate Everything: Successfully Managing Language Expectations

translation signsMarketing and web executives typically have to fight to get the budgets they need to localize their websites for all of their intended markets. And, because budgets are limited, tough decisions are often made over what content gets translated and what does not get translated.

In addition, some companies want to test the waters of a new market with a scaled-down website that is light in translated content. But regardless of how much content you translate into your target languages, you must keep an eye on managing the language expectations of your web users.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Avoid creating “language façades”
If you can only afford to translate one or two pages of a website, you’re probably better off not translating at all. That is, unless those few web pages offer true value to web users, such as providing contact information for in-market sales or support teams who speak the customer’s language.

But if all you’re doing is trying to create the impression that you support the user’s language, you’re only going to create the wrong impression. After clicking on a link or two, users will quickly discover that there is little of value for them, and they’ll leave the localized website disappointed and unlikely to return.

Whatever momentum you had achieved for supporting a localized website will be lost. Keep in mind that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you want it to be positive.

Help users self-translate content
Odds are, if you aren’t translating web pages for users, they are doing so for themselves using machine translation tools like Google Translate and Bing Translate. And the resulting translations are not going to be the same level of quality as the content you paid to have professionally created.

But, well managed, self-translation using software can be a valuable tool. A small number of companies (with more to come) are testing the use of machine translation to enable users to self-translate web content for themselves, as they wish.

Shown here is what Autodesk is doing with its knowledgebase. By managing the process, Autodesk can better manage quality. It also learns what languages and what content is of most importance to users.



Some links are better left un-translated
Let’s suppose that you’ve translated 25% of your website — you’re bound to have plenty of web pages that link to other web pages that are still in the source language. Should you remove those links, or should you translate them?

I recommend leaving these links un-translated. Therefore, users will see English text before they click on it, which is a subtle but important way to manage user expectations.

An alternative, which can often be supported by content management systems, is to go ahead and translate the links but also append text that reads “In English” next to the link. Make sure “In English” is also translated!

Above all, be transparent
As shown here with Hyatt, an “abridged” website is not a fully localized website. While it may pain marketing and PR execs to admit that a website isn’t fully localized, I always recommend being open with users about your localized website and what to expect from it.



We should always strive to give web users around the world the same level of content and support as users in our domestic markets receive. But we should also be practical when expanding into new markets and do the best with the resources we have, which often means doing more with less (translation). But assuming you’ve considered your local users’ language expectations, you can still achieve a degree of success with your localized websites.

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