by Amir Helzer
When we say ‘translation’, we mean “take a text written in one language and convert it to another.” Localization is a bit wider. It means: adapting to the conventions of a different country. This begins with the language, date, currency, and numbers format, but may go much deeper. Localization might include changing your sales message to adapt to different cultures and even changing the way you approach potential customers.
In order to sell abroad, you certainly need to think ‘localization.’ The level of localization, however, is up to you. Once you begin, you’ll discover it’s an ongoing effort. The closer you get to your target customers, the more successful you become.
You can find a more formal definition for software localization in Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_localization
Things that need to be localized
Lets start with what we’re after: making it easy for people from other countries to buy your software. To do this, they should be able to:
- Find you
- Learn about you
- Try your program
- Ask a question or two
- Go to your online store and buy it
- Get registration information
Your localization shopping list
To help people find you via web searches, made in different languages, you’ll need to localize your website. It’s crucial for both organic and sponsored results. Then, remember that many people search the web in English, but prefer to have their news in their native language. Getting localized press releases will be a big step forward.
Your program, including its installer, should speak their language. Remember that translating the menus and buttons is not the end of it. You’ll also have to handle the help file and make sure that links to online resources send your users to pages in their own language.
Many people just ask questions to see that there’s someone on the other side of the line. Be prepared to answer all sorts of questions about your company, your program and how to buy from you.
If you managed to get your customers as far as the checkout, you probably don’t want to disappoint them there, right?
Your shopping experience should be completely localized, including all texts, price (including currency), VAT, and delivery information.
And finally, the last thing you need is having people buy your program and then ask for refunds, just because they didn’t notice you delivered.
Make sure you send your registration information in their language and provide instructions which they can follow.
Definitely, in order for your localization to be effective, everything has to be in place before you start making sales. So, does it really matter what we start with?
Actually, it does! There’s a reason– it’s called Google’s sandbag. It’s a little failsafe mechanism, which search engines, such as Google, implemented several years back. What it does is keep new websites from appearing in search results for a while. They do that to keep SPAM from flooding search results.
If you start by localizing your website, Google can ‘get used to it,’ while you’re busy completing the entire package. So, let’s get into the specifics of translating your website.
If your website is built around a contents management system (CMS), such as Joomla!, check out the available localization modules. You’ll be able to turn them on and get an independent translator to translate the text itself. Skip ahead to the section “Hiring an independent translator” and you’re good to go. Otherwise, if you’ve got an HTML website, read on…
Before you begin, there are some things you should do. Finding a translator and starting the work without getting your website ready will most likely lead to a lot of work, on your side, very soon after you receive the translation.
Preparing your website for translation
Just because your website looks fine, it doesn’t mean it’s clean from HTML errors. You should check it for valid HTML. Searching Google for “HTML validation” will give you plenty of options. I like the official w3 validator (validator.w3.org) and HTML validator lite (onlinewebcheck.com). Remember that any error you leave behind will have to be fixed later in the translated pages as well, so you’ll be saving a lot of work by fixing them right now. At the bare minimum, clean all errors. I also try to clean most warnings.
Next, make sure it’s possible to preview your website offline. Having references to objects with absolute paths will make it difficult for the translator and for you to preview your website from a local file system. A web server will properly fetch objects which are referenced with an absolute path (relative to DocumentRoot). However, when you try to browse the same from a local file system, things will break up. If the reference includes the protocol and full URL– http://www.domain.tld/images/foo.jpg, the browser knows exactly where to request the image from (you’ve supplied the full URI). However, if you just supply path, relative to your website’s root– /images/foo.jpg, the browser doesn’t know where to request from.
If your program is called “Folder Finder 3.2”, you probably don’t want it called “Buscador de Carpetas 3.2”. Prepare a list of all the names and expressions you’d like to keep in the translated website.
Also, if you’re using terms which may not be familiar to everyone, it would be very handy to keep a list of them, with their explanations. This will help the translator understand what the text means and convey this meaning in the translation.
Doing the translation
So, we’ve prepared our website and are all ready to go. Now, how does the actual translation happen?
Your choices range all the way from finding an independent translator to turn-key solutions using a translation agency. Hiring a translator would probably be the most economic and getting it all done by an agency would be the easiest. There are some things you need to keep in the back of your head when considering your options:
- I don’t speak these languages. How to I know the translation is good?
- Is it going to be on schedule? Can I trust them?
- How am I going to receive the work? Will I have to spend any time patching and fixing it?
- What happens when my website updates?
Hiring an independent translator
There are many experienced and qualified translators. Qualified means that the worker has studied translation formally or passed a translation exam, in the languages you need the to work in. Being a native speaker is great, but may not be enough to properly translate text.
A great place to find translators is proz.com. It’s geared more towards translators than for clients, but still have an easy-to-use job board. If you post a job, you’ll receive dozens of bids from very qualified translators. Check our their résumés and don’t be shy about asking questions (and requesting references). Try to address the issues we’ve listed above and make sure you’re happy before selecting a translator.
It’s always a good idea to wait a day or two before selecting a translator. You might get great offers very soon after you post your project and even better ones a day later.
proz.com lets you carry on private communication with translators. It’s a good idea to make use of this feature, to make sure that you’re going to get what you need.
Qualified independent translators will probably produce well-translated texts, but may be less capable when it comes to editing HTML. Be very specific in your job description. Make sure the translators understand they are getting an HTML document and returning an HTML document. You probably don’t want to get a Word document, with the translated texts, which you’ll have to manually plant in the HTML.
Also, make sure that your translator uses reasonable character encoding. Reasonable==UTF-8. Other character encodings, may lead to various editing and display problems. You can’t go wrong with Unicode, encoded as UTF-8. Try to explain that to the translator and verify he knows what you’re talking about and how to save the files correctly.
If the translators agree to deliver HTML, make sure they (and not you) verify its integrity using an HTML validator before sending it to you. This will save you previous time, searching for missing tags and other editing bugs. Remember that recommendation to clean up your HTML? If you send buggy HTML source, there’s no way you’ll get clean code back.
Make sure you’re happy with the payment terms. Some translators live in countries where PayPal is not available and credit cards are rarely used. They might ask you for a wire transfer. When you set up your translation project, be sure to specify how you’re willing to pay and when.
Turn-key solutions by a translation agency
Search online for “website translation”. You might be surprised by how many results you find. Most agencies have offices in Western Europe and the US and employ remote translators. For you, it’s not a problem. You only deal with the agency and never ever see or hear the translator. That’s good and bad. The agency is responsible for the quality of the work, but it makes it difficult for instructions to pass all the way to the translator.
If you have any special requirements, make sure they become an integral part of the project and not as supplemental information you later email to your project’s manager.
Even if an agency is doing your translation, make sure you know what you’re going to receive. It’s a good idea to actually speak with the person you’re going to deal with (not just the web form). Make sure you’re getting a complete HTML website (as opposed to a bunch of Word documents).
A translation agency is a great choice for websites with dynamic contents (database driven). If this is your case, a specialist will review your particular needs. Then, your server side code (PHP / ASP / etc.) will be patched to serve contents in multiple languages. Text from the code will be extracted and translated.
Finally, the dynamic data itself will have to be translated. If your product information is stored in a database, it will all have to be translated.
Keep in mind that you’re entering a long-time relationship. Whenever you update your website, the translation will need to be updated. Make sure you understand how this process is run over time and what are the costs involved.
Independent translators / automated flow
You can try to combine the lower costs of an independent translator with the peace of mind of going through a translation agency.
A new service, icanlocalize.com, lets independent translators work on websites without the fuss of editing HTML files. You’ll still have to deal with independent translators (from their database) and select the one to do your project. However, technical problems involved in editing HTML pages are eliminated.
It’s pretty similar to posting a project in proz.com. The only difference is, the translator never touches (or even sees) your HTML, but only the texts. Instead, a program builds the translated website.
icanlocalize.com only works with static websites. If your website is database-driven, this solution is not for you. In such case, a programmer will have to patch your server code, to produce multi-lingual output. A translation agency will be able to cater your needs.
You can find independent translators to work for as low as 7 cents per word. A turn-key solution by an agency costs around 20-30 cents per word. It’s not a rip-off. If you consider the amount of work that needs to be done, on top of translating the text, you’ll realize you’re getting your money’s worth.
For static HTML websites, You can try to look up qualified translators at proz.com, who will deliver complete HTML at very low rates. A semi-automated service such as icanlocalize.com can significantly reduce risks by eliminating manual work altogether.
If your website serves dynamic contents, you should treat your website as a software localization project. I’ll be back to discuss this.
About the Author: Amir Helzer is the owner of OnTheGoSoft, a software development company at www.onthegosoft.com. Amir’s website and application have been translated to different languages, and his new site www.icanlocalize.com helps webmasters translate sites.
Copyright 2008 Amir Helzer & OnTheGoSoft