Monday, October 09, 2006

Website Content for Foreign Audience: Writing for Translation

The Internet has made the world much smaller. Language and cultural barriers remain, though. People are still very different, and you should keep it in mind when you are writing anything for people who live in other countries.

Surprisingly many people think that creating, say, a website in other language means just to translate the existing English version into Chinese, Arabic, Russian, or some other language. Good translation by all means is very important a professional translator will do his best to convey your message to the audience. But what about the message itself -- will it work?

No matter whether you are going to launch a website in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, or some other language, there are things you can't afford to neglect.

Remember: your website is not for you.

It is for VISITORS. So it is logical to consider what THEY think such websites should be like. It is their points of view that matter, not yours.

Who is your reader?

When writing in English, say, Web content or a document, you keep in mind WHO you are writing for -- and you are quite right. Your goal is to inform, to appeal, to persuade, to prove It remains the same when you are addressing people from other countries. The difference is that sometimes it is necessary to change the very approach to your audience as well as the style.

Several simple tips of foreigner-friendly writing

What to begin with when writing for a person from another culture? To be as culture-neutral as possible - and more people will understand you. Here is what you can do:

Avoid slang, idioms, proverbs and sayings. They are YOURS, not theirs. Allusions to books they probably haven't read, quotations, however familiar they are to you -- all that most likely won't work.
Forget about wordplay and puns when writing something to be translated. Your jokes also might turn to be not so funny in other language.
Be cautious with metaphors and similes (comparisons). Pretty clear and familiar to YOU, for others they might be not so obvious.
Symbols can mean something very different in other cultures. If you can't do without one, find out what it means THERE.
Abbreviations and acronyms are tricky, too they may be unknown to your audience.
Pay some attention to things you think everybody knows or likes -- your audience might neither know nor care for them.

Before translating your website content, it would be reasonable to "test" it. You can find a person from the country you're going to launch the site for, and ask him to proofread the text. Not for spelling or grammar, of course -- for understandability. By the way, you can ask the translator to do that. If he is a native speaker who lives in this country, he surely knows your target audience -- probably better than you do. A good translator's opinion is pretty valuable, though you can get it for free. Just don't forget ask for it BEFORE the translator begins working.

Things you'd better find out before your Website content is translated:

Is the content easy-to-read, persuasive, or whatever you expected from it? Did you chose the right approach to your audience? Will the text sound "foreign" even after translation?

Finding the right translator

It is up for you to choose among hundreds of translation agencies and thousands of freelance translators. Even if you are dealing with an agency, it would be good to know who will be doing the
job. If you can, get a well-educated native speaker of the language you are going to have your text translated into (it is called "target language"). Why well-educated? Well, he will be more likely to have good vocabulary in his mother tongue. People who can't express their thoughts well enough in their native language make mediocre translators.

Why native? The reason is that nobody can ever say: "I have learned this language" only "I have been learning". We all have been learning our mother tongues since birth. That is why native speakers have an advantage. Besides, a native speaker often has precious knowledge about your target audience and will help you with good advice.

Bodies With Lots to Say

I once read somewhere that at least 90% of language is non-verbal. How do we communicate then if only 10% of a language is actually spoken? The simple answer is body language. In general day-to-day life we are constantly reading other people's body language. From just walking along a street and looking at passers by, we ascertain whether someone is friendly, hostile, approachable, standoffish or just indifferent. All this information is gathered and assessed subconsciously and without uttering a word.

Have you ever been in a room a shop or a park for example and spotted someone you took an instant dislike to? You don't know the person, you've never seen them before, yet as soon as you looked at them they irritated and annoyed you. You didn't like what you saw but you are totally unaware of the reason for this feeling.
The object of your irritation could be extremely attractive to lots of other people in terms of personality, looks and general demeanour, but to you - well you've already decided that you just don't like them but you don't know why.

The answer is simply that their body language is incompatible with your own. This is no-one's fault; it's just one of those quirky things that happen from time to time. The point is that all this information has subconsciously been gathered, analysed, assessed and a decision made without a word being exchanged.

Everybody at some time or other has heard comments about body language such as when someone is talking to you and they fold their arms they are subconsciously putting up a barrier. Salespeople in the belief that it will give them an edge in business and negotiations sometimes take up the study of body language or kinesics as it is often referred to. For instance, by being able to read the body language of their prospective client, they feel they are equipped to pre-empt any negative responses that may be forthcoming.

It is a matter of personal opinion as to whether you think that would work or not. One final thought to leave you with though - when someone is talking to you and they fold their arms; remember - sometimes they might just feel more comfortable that way.