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6 reasons NOT to translate your web site

6 reasons NOT to translate your web siteAs a web publisher, you won't find many translation companies eager to tell you not to localize your web site. But, the fact is, there are some very good reasons why it may not be in your best interest:

1. Translation is free on the Internet
When it comes to international content you have three options:

  1. Mirror your English site;
  2. Base content on a subset of the English site; or
  3. Develop unique content for each target market.
Sites that offer well-written, jargon-free, simple content may wish to consider using one of the free Internet-based translation services (such as Google Translate) as an attractive alternative. Beyond being free, these services offer a wide range of languages that do not require updating if the underlying site changes.

For smaller companies this alternative provides an ideal way to "get your feet wet" with minimal investment of resources. But keep in mind that the quality of the translation varies greatly and that the more complex your site, the more prone to mistranslation this process is.

Sites with social networking aspects are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing translations. TED's Open Translation Project is said to have saved the organization $500,000 in translation spending.

2. Low return on investment
Whether or not to translate a web site is a business decision and it should be treated as such. Some companies are getting swept up in the mad dash to localize their web sites without looking at the underlying financials.

For companies that are in very small niche markets or companies that will do business in the domestic market only, providing a multilingual site may be a waste of time and money.

Similarly, a lot of companies decide to forgo a multilingual web presence when marketing to Hispanic consumers in the U.S.

Also, many companies lose sight of the expense following the initial translation of a web site. If a company's business model calls for fresh content through regular updates, a substantial investment in technology and translation services will be needed to carry this across multiple languages.

To maintain a multilingual Internet presence, companies budget around $50 per page per language per update. A small site with 60 pages in four foreign languages undergoing three updates per year would need to budget a minimum of $36,000 for maintenance of its multilingual web presence. A company may simply be too small (or underfunded) to sustain this kind of ongoing expense.

3. English is lingua franca
Despite the protests of "us-first" movements in France, Switzerland, and other countries, English is slowly but steadily gaining ground as the world's lingua franca.

And in a few business sectors, English really is the main language being used. One example is international currency trading. For companies supporting this industry, a multilingual web site might not make sense. If your customers don't want or need a translated site, you should think twice before creating one.

4. Insufficient resources to service international users
Companies run the danger of getting caught in the multilingual web hype. "I want to sell globally and so I need a multilingual web presence," the argument goes. This may be true but it is not the whole picture.

Once it is determined what you want, the real question is what can you afford? As we discussed a a few months ago, the successful planning for web localization is no small feat. Consider the following:
  • Who will your support foreign customers? Issues like language-skills, time zones, and accessibility will become important.
  • How will international distribution be handled?
  • Who will reply to incoming emails, faxes, and telephone calls from abroad? Having a Spanish web site, for example, is like telling the world at large: "We speak Spanish. Come and talk to us."
Web globalization is not a one-time undertaking. By committing resources to today, you are in fact committing tomorrow's resources as well. And these resources are significant, especially if a site contains anything more sophisticated than text and tables.

One way to solve this dilemma is to prioritize translation spending. Scrutinize the revenue potential, Internet connectivity, size, and translation expense for various prospective international markets, and base the go/no go decision on this analysis.

5. Who is responsible?
Many companies lose sight of the demands that a globalization effort will place on the organization. Does the required breath and depth of skills exist? What functions or departments need to be shored up with additional staff? Will internal politics and turf wars sabotage the venture?

Web translation may reside in any one of a number of different departments: Marketing, Engineering, International, New Media, Information Systems, Communications, R&D, etc. Across software companies, there does not appear to be a commonly chosen "place" or person responsible. Responsibility winds up with whomever doesn't move fast enough to get out of the way.

This has the undesirable effect that translation often is not managed effectively. The best people and resources are put on other projects with higher profiles, leaving localization efforts to fall short of its goals.

6. Bad timing
The risk of entering too late (i.e., competitors are already established) must be balanced with the cost of rushing into a market too early (i.e., when no market exists yet). In many online segments, companies invest substantial resources into being first. Because this involves venturing into uncharted territory, your competitors may benefit by learning from (and avoiding) your expensive mistakes.

Enter the world with open eyes
While you cannot afford to ignore the global market if you wish to maintain your leadership position, you can still exercise a healthy understanding of the demands and potential pitfalls to building a multilingual web presence. Carefully analyze the situation before committing your company's resources.

More resources? Sure, we have more resources:

Need expert web localization services for your medical device and pharmaceutical company? Ask ForeignExchange Translations for a quote.


  1. PurplePilot said...
    "English is lingua franca" Only an English only speaker would say that. The point is much business is done in English, but far more is done in non-english languages. And simply because you turn up to a business meeting in Germany where everyone speaks English does not mean that German isn't the prime language in the business. Further down the scale consumers which many web sites are aimed at do not use English in any big way (in many countries) and a native, localised application is the way to reach them.

    Most of the other points i agree with especially ROI but don't factor "English is lingua franca" into the costings.

    Finally localisation is not all about language. Different cultures use different color palettes, different type faces and different navigation paradigms. These elements need to be taken into account as well.
    Michelle A Johnson said...
    I understand the points given, but I still believe that translating your website can be a more positive outcome for a business than a negative. English is not the only standing language out there. If you take a look at the attached link, you will find that minorities are becoming the majority as well as the language. http://www.dynamiclanguageblog.com/2008/08/2007-us-census-shows-that-minorities.html

    Globalization really is a key factor in providing business heights. Check out bigfishgames.com --Even they are translating their website and games into several different languages such as Spanish, Japanese, and German.
    Joe said...
    I would never recommend anyone to machine-translate their marketing material (which a website certainly is) and display it publicly. Even nowadays it is a surefire way to get people laughing at you, and I seriously doubt that displaying linguistic incompetence brings new business.
    Alisa Choi Darcy said...
    Depending on the industry, you're right, it's not necessary to translate your website. For many organizations who wish to connect to selected target ethnic consumers, even at a domestic level, it's a competitive advantage that they can offer.

    In Canada, versioned webpages targeted at reaching established Chinese, South Asian or Filipino immigrants could increase their effectiveness and relevance by changing the English text to use more culturally-relevant scenarios and corresponding images. Language is often a factor, of course, but in the case of the Filipino market, for example, not always. As a previous commenter said, colours, font selection, and other elements such as icons and spokesperson, should be culture-specific.
    Anonymous said...
    I'd never dream of using MT to translate my website - or anything else, other than gist translation. Despite its having been around for over 50 yrs, MT is still in its technological infancy. Professional websites need professional translators, pure and simple!
    Lauri Jordana said...
    Right on, Joe and Anonymous!

    It is *never* a wise idea to rely on machine translations. All good translations are at the very least performed by humans. Not to say that translation tools cannot be leveraged to increase efficiency/consistency/etc., but please, PLEASE don't try to tell companies that their brands won't be damaged by posting language that may be grammatically incorrect, nonsensical or even offensive.

    This doesn't mean that all sites need to be localized, but if you truly wish to reach a segment that doesn't speak English, please invest in quality translation services.

    In this industry, you definitely get what you pay for!
    Paulina said...
    The only use of MT I see is to get the general idea of what a foreign language text is about. It NEVER works the other way round. Would you order "strangled potatoes" or "Denmark on hot" in a restaurant? Well, I wouldn't, and such mistakes result from MT. I would never seriously suggest to anyone to publish a machine-translated text. Better have it in Chinese only - at least nobody will laugh at you.

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