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Posted: September 21, 2009

How to make your website foreign business-friendly

Do you have a world-class strategy, or is the global market just for your competitors?

Valerie Steinier

When they invented the World Wide Web, they didn't write "USA only" into the circuitry.

Your website is your window to the world, and how the world views you. Trouble is, when you're talking native tongue, English is the fourth most-spoken language in the world behind Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and Spanish. If you want to leave out approximately 3.2 billion non-English speakers, go ahead, but in this increasingly global economy, it can pay to appeal to other language speakers on your home page.

It is obvious that international corporations with global dealings should have mirror sites in different languages. What you may not realize, however, is that it is also important to have mirror sites even if you perceive yourself as a "local" company.

In much of the United States, for example, Spanish is extremely important. That potential customer might be your neighbor. It's not Mexico -- it's Denver, or Minneapolis, or Los Angeles. Even if you are local company, a mirror site opens prospects to a whole community. Koreans, Russians, Vietnamese, Hindis; all of those people are "here."

Say you are a marketing company, an ad agency, maybe even a Web designer. With all the business that China does in the U.S., are you telling me that you want to get hired by a Chinese manufacturer seeking representation in the U.S.?

On the other hand, if you are truly a global marketing company, by not having a mirror site in other languages, it's difficult to convince a potential client you can advise them on global marketing strategy. Even manufacturers selling sophisticated medical equipment, for example, should translate specifications and instruction manuals in other languages.

Content should be localized on your site, especially if you are selling a service. This is because it's not just about language, it's about culture.

If you use the expression "que más," you have to know that in Colombia, it means, "What's up?" In Mexico, the same expression means "if you got what you wanted, go then," and that is not polite. That is just one example of how important it is to know your audience and adapt the content of websites to not only language but culture as well.

Make your translations complete throughout your marketing material, from website to Power Point presentations to printed brochure handouts. Even user guides are telltale of your policy towards non-English speaking customers. What good is it to do only a partial translation on your marketing materials?

Here are some other tips in translating:

• Don't have an English-speaking American translate for the German market. Get someone from Germany whose first language is German, and have him translate it. An American speaking fluent German still won't have enough grasp of the culture to get it right.

• Translate your entire site. If you don't, you run a high risk of not having repeat visitors who speak that language.

• Take the time to work on your graphics, photos or illustrations as well. What works in one culture may not work in another. The Japanese sense of humor is very different than that in the U.S., for example.

• Know your customer. They speak Spanish in Peru and in Mexico, but each local version of the language is going to be different because each culture is different. Don't be literal in your translation. Localize the words to adapt to local meaning. This takes a little skill and knowledge, but don't be mistaken: This is something only trained human experts can do. It's still a far cry from when computers will be clever enough to deal efficiently with the subtleties of natural language and cultural identities.

Translate from the creation of your Web site. It can be very difficult to go back and change language "hard-wired" into your site's code, or content that isn't accessible by a content management system.

A safety manual for homebuilders was recently translated from English to Columbian Spanish, because that's the language most of the workers used. I'm French but live in Belgium. Both use French, but you're not going to approach the French the way you would approach a Belgian.

The bulk of translation work is in Chinese, English, Spanish, Japanese and Arabic. That should point the way to a path through the woods for you -- a path others have taken to the world economy.

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Valerie Steinier is CEO of Virtual Words Translations USA (http://www.virtual-words.com/), a worldwide translation service with offices in Denver and Brussels. Virtual Words Translations offers language services such as written translation, interpretation, audiovisual translations, transcription and language consulting to and from about 40 languages with a network of 2,000 translators around the globe.  She can be reached at (720) 344-5174 or by email: valerie@virtual-words.com.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Valerie is great! She's the first person I turn to for translation needs. So true, the Web blows out all boundaries. By Dru Shockley on 2009 09 22

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