Context is everything when it comes to translation

If you ask a translator: “How do you say x in y language?”, their answer will likely be: “It depends on the context”. Context is everything when it comes to translation.

The market information

To make the most of your international content, provide your translator with as much context as possible!

Brief them with the following:

👉 Target audience: who are you talking to? (age, nationality/culture, interests, income, position, etc…)

👉 Tone: conversational or formal?

👉 Purpose: what’s your CTA (call to action)? What do you want your audience to do?

👉 Knowledge: how much does your audience know about your product/service or the subject matter?

Actually, you should think about these before you even start creating your content, and then make sure your translator knows them, too. That way they will be more likely to convey the same message and reinforce your brand identity.

UI strings

Whether it is an app, a website or software UI, the translator is often handed a list of strings in an Excel file with little or no context.

If the app is still in development, the translator cannot interact with it and will be clueless as to how to render the string in another language.

Context will speed up the translation process. Ideally we like to see screen shots of UI screens. However, if you really cannot provide these, could you insert a comment in that Excel file you sent to give context?

👉What does the string refer to: a button? an error message? a list item?

👉If it is an error message, what is it about?

👉Is it a placeholder or a variable?

👉Any character limit?

Here is an example:


err_InvldEmail

Enter a valid [&1]

This message displays if an email address is not entered. The following information will populate for this message: [&1] = email address.

🤔Without this additional detail, the translator will ask you: “Enter a valid what?”

English is a wonderfully concise language, and nouns have no gender. In French, the article “a” will vary (un / une) and the adjective must match the gender of the noun.

In this case, the client provided the context: the missing word in the string is “email address.” In French it is feminine (une adresse e-mail), so now we can appropriately translate the string, leaving the placeholder, and be assured that the article and adjective agree with the noun that will be dropped into the string later.

Translation: Entrez une [&1] valide.

Et voilà.

Textual context

Textual context is really key when translating from a concise language such as English. Homonyms and homographs are very frequent yet depending on the context will be translated into completely different words in other languages. Words such as home, book or turn are perfect examples:

Book a call with us OR read our free book?

A turn of events OR a turn of a page?

Home page OR work from home?

Another source of confusion can be the use of nouns to describe other nouns. A single colour ink cartridge can mean a cartridge with 4 colours built in one (a single cartridge that will print in colour) or 4 individual cartridges (a cartridge containing a single colour). A good translator will always ask questions to clarify the context and will as for any reference material, especially when it comes to specialised terminology.

Situational context

Situational context refers to the factors and circumstances from the real-world environment which are affecting meaning. This is what is currently making machine translation so difficult to implement: it is hard to replace humans and their ability to live through communicative exchanges in real life, because the situational context involves the reasons why something occurs, references to the social, political or economic nuances.

A classic example is the form of personal address (“you” in English).

Who is talking? A millennial or a 19th century book character?

With whom? A colleague, friend, a boss, a doctor or Le Président de la République?

Are they talking or writing?

Is this happening now or 50 years ago? 

When you adapt your product and your marketing campaigns to your target countries, you need to take into account their culture, traditions, and values.

Marketing experts will tell you that your specific message needs to get across to your audiences so that you can meet them where they’re at. The same is true for your international audience.

Work with a professional translator and localiser who will help you get your message across the borders.

And please: Provide your translator with context!

“Can’t read: won’t buy”: why you should localise your website

Can’t Read, Won’t Buy: 2014,” is a catchy title of a report published in April 2014 by an independent research firm Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research). The report contained findings of a survey of more than 3,000 global consumers in 10 non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. Specifically, the research assessed online language preferences and their subsequent impact on purchasing decisions.

The key findings can be summarised as follows:
  • 75% of consumers say that they want the products in their native language.
  • 30% never buy at English-language sites, and another 29% rarely do.
  • Across the 10-country sample, 56% either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English, or boycott English-language URLs altogether.
  • Automotive and financial services are the products that consumers are least likely to buy if the website is not in their native language.
  • Exactly half would prefer that at least the navigation elements and some content appear in their language, and another 17% strongly share that preference. This finding contradicts the conventional industry wisdom that you should localize everything or nothing.

Considering these findings, Common Sense Advisory Chief Strategy Officer and founder Don DePalma concluded that “there should be no question about localizing your website and product information if you want to sell more goods or services to global customers. Localisation improves customer experience and increases engagement in the brand dialogue. It should be a rigorously planned and executed business strategy for any company looking to grow internationally.” (https://csa-research.com/More/Media/Press-Releases/ArticleID/31/Survey-of-3-000-Online-Shoppers-Across-10-Countries-Finds-that-60-Rarely-or-Never-Buy-from-English-only-Websites)

So why should you translate your website and into which languages?
1. Do you want to increase your customer base?

Clearly the statistics presented above support the need to localise your content and products. If your online presence is only in English, you are missing on over 50% of potential buyers who will never purchase from you.

2. Do you do business abroad already?

If you provide your customers with product descriptions, shipping and payment options and transact in their language, they will feel more comfortable. As a result, they will come back to you for more business because they trust you. When a site is in a language that people don’t understand, they are more likely not to trust it.

3. What is your competition doing?

If they are not doing the same (yet) you can set the standards that others will have to follow, differentiate your brand and gain precious market share before everyone else.

4. Have you examined your website analytics?

Where does the traffic come from? Have you had global visitors who did not stop and buy?

The answer to these questions will also help you establish which languages you should select for your localisation project.

5. Do you attach importance to strong SEO?

You will multiply its rich benefits if you translate your content and carefully choose SEO-rich keywords that greatly helps when global users search in their preferred languages.

6. Tempted by a free solution such as Google Translate?

A penny-pinching attitude really does not pay off here. If you read Google’s own quality guidelines (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2721306?hl=en&ref_topic=6001971 ) you will see that they penalise the search engine rankings of websites that use automated content. This includes “text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing”.

Conclusion

The best way to translate a website that converts and boosts your brand is by hiring a professional experienced translator who intimately understands the language and the local culture. You will avoid developing content that appears foolish and turns the potential buyers off. The media frequently publish the localisation horror stories where lack of cultural and linguistic understanding has led to a ridiculous result. You don’t want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions. Your great products and online flagship store deserve great translations.