Monday, November 5, 2012

Five Common Website Translation Mistakes

When translating and localizing websites there are many decisions that seem simple enough and you would think they would not create problems. However, depending on how the process is handled, they may lead to unforeseen issues. Here are five of the most common website localization mistakes. Fortunately these are the easiest to correct.

1. Using flags for language pull down menus
  • Some languages cover several countries so there is no unified flag that can be used without being offensive or political incorrect. Two great examples of this are countries that speak Spanish and Arabic.  This only works if you have representatives in those countries, and the website is hosted in that country, or your company only conducts business in a particular country.
  • Using flags can be rather assumptive. Believe it or not, many people would not know their own flag. 
  • It can lead to inaccuracy. In Belgium, they speak French and Flemish. In Switzerland, French, German and Italian.  So, you need to decide what language you use for these countries, or have an additional drop down menu for the choice of language. It gets complicated.
2. Using the name of a country for language pull down menus
  • Again, this could be inaccurate and you may inadvertently insult your audience and create the same issues as using a flag.
  • If, however, you directly sell a product in a particular country like France and do not offer shipments to Madagascar, Rwanda or any of the other 29 countries where French is the official language, then the country name may be best.
3. Using the name of the language or country in English in the pull down menu
  • If you took the time to translate the content, you should be sensitive enough to translate the name of the language or country so end users can easily find the translation.
  • Do not assume that everyone knows enough English well to find their language in English. It is best to be culturally sensitive and inclusive not exclusive.
4. Misuse of foreign language capitalization
  • In the English language, we capitalize language names. However, other languages do not follow the same rules. English speakers capitalize the “s” in Spanish and the translation would be espaƱol. Whereas, the “d” in Deutsch is capitalized in German.
  • Foreign languages do not use initial capital letters in headlines.  For example, English:  Sale Items, French:  Articles en vente.
  • Websites cannot be consistent in the use of capitalization or even the treatment of fonts for emphasis without the possibility of the layout changing.
5. Not verifying whether or not foreign language characters will display properly in all applications
  • Be sure to test the localized website content before going live in all viewing applications so that double-byte languages like Japanese or Chinese do not show up as all squares or with random strange characters within it.
  • This may mean that some languages will need to be treated as graphics to make sure they are properly displayed.
For further help and to have your website checked for any issues or mistakes contact Nancy Cardone at Make sure your first impression is a good impression.