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Language - Who Can Read Your Web Site?

By Grant McNamara
Posted Wednesday, December 1, 2004

We assume that people looking at our web site can read the words. But can they? If they can't read what is presented, they certainly won't buy. Tens of millions of people use the Internet to buy products and services everyday, but they wont buy from you. Why not? Because they can't read English.English is the first language in only a small number of countries, and many people have English as a second language. But consider for a moment the hundreds of millions of people that can't read English. Who do they buy from? Well it won't be from you. No doubt you've seen sites which allow the user to select from a list of language options. Perhaps it's anption for your site. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive option to present your web site in multiple languages.

By giving your audience a choice you are improving your service. Everyone prefers to deal with organisations that understand and meet their needs. Fundamental to quality service is the ability to communicate. And you are widening your potential market by millions and millions and millions. The benefits of allowing foreign language readers the ability to view your site are astounding. And the cost of making the site available in multiple languages is probably far lower than you think. There are many firms specializing in language translation services. They take your English based text and graphics and translate them into Spanish or German or Chinese or whatever languages you think best. And they can do the same with your newsletters, your e-books, and yes, even software products.

We provide translations of web sites. And for most jobs, clients are surprised at how cost effective the service is. They kick themselves for not doing it earlier. Especially once the orders start to roll in from their new markets. All that extra revenue, and so little effort. Most web sites are somewhere between 500 and 1,500 words. The cost of translating such a small amount of text is small, and the effort needed to amend the web site quite modest.

But a word of warning! Only human translators can accurately provide a precise translation of a specific language. If you want a perfect translation, only a real person can assure you of getting one. Human translators excel at creating perfect translations. When translating general topics, it is necessary to use an expert skilled at the appropriate targeted language, for example, English into German For specialized fields, one needs to find an experienced translator who also possesses knowledge of the terminology in that particular subject matter. In addition, if you intend to print, publish or distribute your translated materials to others, it is highly recommended that you have a competent human translator review
and edit the material.

And yes there are a number of automated translation products. And most work reasonably well. But their translations only provide a rough approximation. The reader can understand what is meant, but the words are often wrong or in the wrong order. It's just like talking to someone who doesn't know English well. You can understand much of what they say, and communicate, but it is hard work. That's how translation software usually reads. Using such software won't give your prospective customers any degree of confidence that you provide quality.

Another alternative is to ask friends. No doubt you will have friends or colleagues, or friends of friends that have language skills. It is best to have people translate into their 'mother tongues'. A mother tongue is the language that a person learnt as a child. If you use friends and family though, it's a good idea to get a professional translator to proof read the results. Proof reading is usually about 20% of the price of the equivalent translation.

And if your budget is very small, you can include a simple welcome page for your foreign language visitors. Here you would just describe the web site in general terms, explaining what you do and the key benefits of the products and services you offer.

I hope this has given you something to think about.

Copyright (c) 2002 Grant McNamara, All Rights Reserved. This article may be freely distributed and published. If you wish to publish the article, out of courtesy, please email me and advise the url.

About the Author
Grant McNamara - Grant McNamara manages The Translateme Group at ( specializing in multilingual software development and Internet support.


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