“Can’t read, won’t buy.”
The title of a study of over 2,400 consumers sums up the appeal of a multilingual website: people simply prefer to buy from websites if they’re in their native language. Over half of the consumers surveyed for the study only shopped at sites in their own language, and among the ones who browsed sites in other languages, only a quarter felt comfortable making buying decisions. It is easy to see then why business would opt for multilingual websites: offering their services and products in more than one language is a way to expand their market enormously.
But how difficult is it to localize and maintain a multilingual website? Glad you asked: Gobierno.USA.gov and Government Multilingual Websites Community have developed a list of ten best practices for multilingual websites that we’re happy to share and discuss here.
This one should be obvious: users have to be able to read the site in the language of their choice. This doesn’t only include all content but also navigation buttons, features and functions of the site. Machine translation is “strongly discouraged”, even if a disclaimer is added, and every translation has to be reviewed by a qualified translation professional before it is posted.
Beyond the concerns of the language, it is important for multilingual websites to also address cultural considerations in order to connect with their audience. The key to a successful multilingual website is translation and localization by an expert who understands the target culture and can avoid potential localization problems and pitfalls.
The best multilingual website is useless if users can’t find pages their language. Toggle buttons that allow users to easily switch languages have to be visible and easily accessible on every page, usually on the top right.
4. URL Strategy
A solid URL strategy is essential for marketing and search engine optimization. The Gobierno guidelines state that a “stand-alone, dedicated” URL should be used — but they don’t go into detail whether it should be a country code top level domain (yoursite.fr), a subdomain (fr.yoursite.com) or a subdirectory (yoursite.com/fr/). For more details on the advantages and disadvantages of each method, take a look at this Guide to Multilingual and Multiregional SEO.
5. Comparability and Maintenance
This is another big one: make sure the user experience on the different language subsites on your website is comparable — and that you have plans in place how to keep it that way. Updates and maintenance on a multilingual website have to happen continually across all languages. Otherwise, users in certain languages will have a different (and out of date!) experience that will reflect poorly on your business.
6. Users’ Expectations
Make sure you warn users with a notice before you send them to a section of your site that hasn’t been translated yet, to an external link in a different language or if a file needs special software that may not be available in their language. An icon or short text letting them know about the target’s language may be enough to avoid confusion or disappointment.
This goes hand in hand with #3: users should be able to toggle between different languages without having to return to the homepage. A toggle switch on each multilingual page goes a long way in providing a smooth user experience.
8. Online Features and Functionality
You’ll want to make sure that not only content has been translated but that interactive features are available in multiple languages as well. For instance, users should be able to share, email, print and subscribe to your site in their native language.
9. Integrated Operations and Marketing
Your multilingual website should be supported by offline infrastructure and customer contacts, which means that phone numbers, email support, and marketing materials should all be available in multiple languages as well and tie into your overall strategy.
10. Online Marketing
We mentioned SEO concerns briefly when we talked about your site’s URL architecture in #4. But successful multilingual online marketing and SEO also require a multilingual online marketing and social media strategy. This includes multilingual blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as the tracking of results of your multilingual marketing efforts.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, a truly effective multilingual web presence requires more than hastily translating some of your content. Your site’s overall strategy and architecture, supporting features, offline infrastructure, social media presence and marketing strategies all need to be translated as well as localized and adapted to the target language and culture, and then continuously updated and maintained.
If this sounds like a lot, you may want to consider the alternative: a shoddily put together web presence in another language — poorly thought out and implemented, perhaps translated by machine and inappropriate for its target audience — may do more harm than good. The same high professional standards should apply across all languages to ensure that a foreign-language user will have an equally satisfying experience when they visit your site.
And consider the benefits: whatever your product or service, you’ve worked hard on establishing your business and finding your market. With a well-conceived multilingual website, you can multiply your reach and increase your potential customer base many times over. Isn’t that worth the extra effort it takes to hire a professional translation agency that specializes in this kind of work and gets the job done right?
We’ll leave with a webinar on best practices for multilingual websites by DigitalGov.
Fall always brings memories of “back to school”, or even “back to business”. Summer vacations over, now it’s time to get back to work. Put the pedal to the metal. Get the nose to the grindstone. Refresh your translation career. But how?
There are many language refresher tips and tools for polyglots. If you want a real challenge, I would suggest looking at translation and interpretation careers in the United Nations (UN) system. Beyond the personal satisfaction of contributing to making a better world, a UN translation career is one of the most profitable careers for polyglots.
If you do not want to work for the United Nations, I still recommend taking the UN language competency exam (LCE) just to make yourself more marketable in your translation job.
I recently sat for the first part of the infamous LCE. Surprisingly, taking the exam was not nearly as hard as figuring out how to register for it!
Here are some simple facts to help you through the process. The official United Nations LCE website has all of the information, though ironically not presented clearly.
1. Check your credentials
The six official UN languages are: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. You must have “a perfect command of one of these languages and excellent knowledge of at least one other.” The exception is German, for which the UN has a small unit in NYC. German speakers need only one other official UN language.
To be clear: to sit for most LCE options, you need mother tongue in one of the six, PLUS another two. For example, you are French mother tongue with perfect command of Spanish and excellent knowledge of Russian.
2. Decide on what kind of exam you want to take
There are exams for translation and interpretation. There are also exams custom made for copywriters and editors, as well as other specific skill sets. Make sure to read though the options and select your exam(s) carefully based on your desired translation career.
3. Check the exam schedule
The LCE website updates exam dates, the first part of which are taken on-line.
The website is not updated regularly, nor does it offer a notification service. I suggest checking it every day if you are serious about bringing your translation career up to the next level.
4. Apply to take the exam
Similar to a job application, you must apply to the exam to gain a virtual seat. Do not underestimate how long it will take you to complete this application! Make it stand out!
The LCE website walks you through the steps to set up your online profile and application.
5. Preparing for the exam
If you search the internet hard enough, there are examples of the LCE individual components on-line. The website prepares you only in that it stipulates what kind of texts will be presented. So far in 2017, it has either been “legal” or “economic” texts, all related to international development documents.
While the LCE website says it is not necessary, I would highly recommend studying the UN style guide and manuals beforehand. These are all available on-line.
Like any boost to your translation career, I recommend immersing yourself in the languages you choose.
In this case, not just any media or company will do. Focus on United Nations documents and films and find yourself a language meet-up with humanitarian professionals in it. You will need to be familiar with humanitarian terminology and constructs if you want to make it through!
6. Taking the first part of the exam
Treat the LCE like any major exam or presentation in your life.
I found the exam exhausting and a bit grueling, even if I love translation! You are under time restrictions and of course mental pressure. Lucky for me I was in a time zone only four hours ahead of NYC. You may end up having to take the exam in the wee hours of the night.
Get good rest the night before. Make sure you have access to plenty of water and healthy food to quickly eat on breaks between the exam sections.
Last words of advice: be ready with the email address where you need to immediately report any technical glitches. I was working on a very slow internet speed, I recommend not doing that! All technical information is sent beforehand in terms of what you need.
Perhaps needless-to-say, but the United Nations system can be quite slow. Check back on the LCE website for test results, and be prepared to wait. Refreshing your translation career this way will be slow.
I took the exam on 8 April 2017 and as of 26 August 2017, still no results. Meanwhile, other exams have been graded and are onto the second parts. This part of the LCE system remains a mystery.
If I pass, I move onto the second phase of the exam. From what I can gather, that happens in person in a location I do not choose. The only thing I am sure of, you have to pay your own way to get there!
“Translations are sacred”, from the film Okja
Accidental translation mistakes can sometimes be amusing, though much to the chagrin of the translator most likely. Except in the case of Netflix which has allowed intentional subtitle translation mistakes for the sake of a good joke.
The Summer 2017 Netflix hit film Okja has fun with translation mistakes and translation humor.
The film Okja is about a little girl’s love for a pig. Read more deeply, it is about the debate over genetic modification and the meat industry. Childhood love and health both being topics where one wants good translation, right?
“Translations are sacred”
Okja is a film bridging Korean and American cultures and languages – and characters. A translator in the film intentionally botches some live interpretation to mislead his criminal comrades. He later repents by brandishing a tattoo on his arm which reads, “translations are sacred”.
This character’s intentional translation mistakes led to plot hilarity and tongue-in-cheek translation humor. However, it also is a serious reminder of how crucial translation is in the context of our globalized relationships and business affairs.
Translations are funny
The film’s actual translators also made intentional translation mistakes, providing another type of hilarity and humor.
Netflix allowed subtitle translation mistakes in Okja for the sake of a good cultural joke. Of course, only someone fluent in Korean and English would understand.
A character simply says his name in Korean, but the English subtitle reads, “Try learning English. It opens new doors!” It is a Korean cultural joke about the pressures to learn English in Korea.
You may need to see the film and be bilingual in Korean and English to get the joke, but I find it enjoyable enough to know about it and know that Netflix went for this.
Learn more English
Okja’s translation mistakes and translation humor are funny, though they also drive home how important it is in our globalized world to understand one another.
For ordering food or navigating car shares, perhaps using real-time, automatic translation apps from Microsoft, Skype and Google can help bridge the world. (See the other Summer 2017 hit film “Weit” for a scene about this).
But for important issues like genetic modification, meat industry, criminality and love, better use professional translation.
We’ve all heard (or said) it: “Italian sounds so romantic!” – “French is the most beautiful language in the world!” – “German sounds ugly” etc.
Nobody summed it up quite as succinctly as Roman emperor Charles V when he declared: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”
Why is it that certain languages sound poetic and melodious while others grate on our nerves?
At The Guardian, Matthew Jenkin explains that sociolinguistics has so far not been able to find any intrinsic reason that certain languages should be objectively “more beautiful” than others. Instead, a language’s attractiveness seems to depend entirely on our own background.
Reasons why we find a language attractive
The attractiveness of a language depends on the perceived value of speaking it. For example, Chinese is increasingly considered valuable because of that country’s economic rise.
Our subjective impressions of a place also influence what we think of the language spoken there. Hearing Italian puts many of us in the mind of the canals of Venice or sunsets in Tuscany. Hence, Italian will automatically seem more “beautiful” to us.
That is easy with a popular destination in the world. But what about far-off places? Can TV and film transport us to other lands and make us fall in love with a language?
For example, what does the world think about Korean? Maybe the Olympic Winter Games 2018 being held in PyeongChang will influence our impression of the language. Maybe a certain Korean athlete will win the world’s hearts and soften us to the language’s sound.
Mother tongue determines love of certain languages
The closeness of a language’s sounds to one’s own mother tongue also influences our impression of it. For example, tonal distinctions used in Thai and Mandarin will sound unnatural and harsh to a native English speaker.
“There hasn’t been any research that has directly exploited the attractiveness of a language and didn’t eventually tie it back to the social evaluation of the speaking community,” Dr. Vineeta Chand of the University of Essex says in the Guardian. In other words: it’s all subjective.
And if you want an idea what your language sounds like to someone who doesn’t understand it, listen to this amazing video of a woman imitating a dozen languages without actually saying anything…
One of the most common questions I’m asked as a translator is: “how do I start learning a language?” I completely understand why people often do not know where to begin — as there are tons of language learning resources out there that promote their products and learning systems as the quickest and/or most accurate way to becoming fluent in a language.
Don’t tell me you’ve never seen them… “Become fluent in Spanish in just one month!” “Have your first fluent conversation in just 48 hours!” These money traps exist everywhere, and they should certainly be avoided.
My advice? Arm yourself with immersive resources. Setting your mind to learning a language is something that takes commitment and dedication. It is not enough to set aside thirty minutes a day if you want true fluency.
The language learnings resources I mention below are non-specific. Why? There are a number of reasons, including the fact that different resources exist for different languages, and that we all have different learning styles. Below are simply my suggestions for various resources that will help you learn a language by immersing yourself in it, whether learning for international work, travel, sports or other hobbies.
If your first instinct is to run to Amazon and find “[Language] for Dummies,” that’s okay. Textbooks and other written resources for language learning are excellent entry points for learning a language. Understand that these books are often not comprehensive — the reason that many language textbooks are specifically for classroom use is that the classroom time contributes to language fluency.
The main focus for in-home use should be gaining comfort with a language. These resources will help you acclimate yourself to the rules of a language and give you a guide to language learning flow, i.e. where to start, grammar structure, basic lessons.
Apps are a great idea if you want to learn languages quickly. That’s not to say an app can speed up the fluency process, but language learning apps like Duolingo can help you to familiarize yourself with common phrases rapidly. This helps to establish base words within your memory bank.
If you want to learn a language with a different character system (like Korean, for instance), memorizing the new alphabet involved can be an arduous task, but lessened by the use of apps. Apps can go wherever you go, making memorization much easier and also entertaining. Have a long wait in the doctor’s office? Pull out your app and get learning!
Apps for language learning try to be the digital version of old-school, paper flashcards, but they cannot replace them. Flashcards should definitely have a place in your language learning resource arsenal. Unlike apps that involve tapping and swiping, flashcards offer a more tactile form of learning that also includes a visual aide.
Flashcards are great for casual learning. Keep a stack next to your bed and study them a few times before you fall asleep. Also, it’s a common mistake to only use flashcards for vocabulary words. But flashcards are also great for memorizing grammar, sentence structure rules and other more conceptual ideas about a language.
Last, but certainly not least, media is one of the most important resources you can utilize when it comes to language immersion and language learning. Sites like Netflix have a wide array of television and movie options from different countries. Find a selection that contains the language you want to learn and start watching!
Pronunciation, repeated words, phrase structures — this is important when it comes to adapting your brain to a language. When you immerse yourself in a language’s media, you’re more likely to achieve and retain fluency.