Truth is not sexy in January

Why free is not always best when it comes to translating your web copy




Picture this. You find a website with what looks like just the product, information or service you’re after. Only it’s in a language you don’t speak. But wait, there’s a language switch button. So you click it.

And suddenly you’re confronted with what at best gives you a few laughs and at worst tells you: Hey, these guys are cheapskates!

You’re sure not going to buy their product or service. You want to do business with someone who cares about their customer – you. So you bounce straight back off the site.

The two basic mistakes

There are two mistakes many businesses make when translating their websites into English.

Mistake #1

The free online translator that many businesses incorporate into their websites and that activates when you click the language switch.

Here’s an excerpt from the English pages of a food website in the Netherlands with informative industry articles and blogs in Dutch, translated in real time courtesy of Google Translate.

Example of bad free Google translation


And there you have it: critiques swept like crap table. Truth is not sexy in January. And the devil is widely revered.

Admittedly, the purpose of the  translations on this website is just to give speakers of other languages the gist of what is being said. And of course this is perfectly acceptable in these situations.

But what if this were your business’s digital calling card? Would you want your prospective audience to laugh when they read about your products and services in their language? Of course not.

Translation is part of your advertising spend

You spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing your products and services in your own language. Why? Because you care about them. And you want that to come across to your prospective customers.

So why should it be any different when it comes to translating your marketing materials for your international prospective customers? The end result should be AS GOOD in the translation as it is in the original language. Your prospective customers abroad deserve no less than those in your home country.

Mistake #2

“We speak really good <insert name of foreign language> here in our office in <insert name of home country>. We’ll save money by translating our web copy into <insert name of foreign language> ourselves.”

But what most people don’t realise is this. A native speaker of <insert name of foreign language> (i.e. your prospective customer in that country) will immediately pick up on things that don’t sound quite natural or are actually wrong in their language. Things that you, as a non-native speaker of that language, may not realise are wrong.

Here’s a classic example:

Weclome 5 Welcome ` Welcome 2 Welcome 4

These are all taken from real Dutch and German websites. In Dutch and German, this is what you say.

But it’s not what you say in English! And an English native speaker will immediately recognise that as bad English.

Not a great way to welcome people to your site, is it?

Native speaker

That’s why it’s so important to work with a native speaker of the languages you are translating your website or marketing copy into. Only a native speaker can iron out those funny or even embarrassing mistakes and make sure your copy conveys the high quality image you want your products and services to have.

But isn’t a fully-fledged professional translation really expensive?

Of course, businesses go down these two routes for financial reasons. Yes, a professional translation costs money.

But there are ways of cutting the cost and still ending up with a good quality translation:

Cutting the cost

#1 Does it all need to be translated?

There may be information on your website that doesn’t apply to foreign customers. Or you could consider providing summaries of your products or services for your foreign visitors.

#2 Translate it in-house and have a professional translator/linguist read it through

You may have fluent or even native speakers of other languages in-house.

In that case, by all means translate your copy in-house – but always make sure you have it read through by a professional linguist who is a native speaker of the language concerned. They will give it a final polish and eliminate any potentially embarrassing mistakes that could be detrimental to your business’s image.

A cautionary word: This last method can cost you less than having the text translated from scratch. But if the translation is not good enough to polish or fix, the professional linguist will advise you that it needs to be retranslated to bring it up to scratch.



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