Around two decades ago, English was unofficially the language that dominated the internet. In 1998, 75 percent of web pages were in English . Things have changed remarkably since then, with the domination of English in the online world undergoing a steady decline. The scales have been steadily tilting away from English and browsing today is no longer just about the lingua franca. There’s been a steep and persistent rise in the use and popularity of other languages on the world wide web.
From 2001 to 2011, the English content grew over the internet by 281 per cent, which is not very promising when compared with the rise in the use of Chinese and Spanish. While Spanish content grew 743 percent, Chinese content went up by a phenomenal 1277 per cent.
Going by just the numbers, English language still holds the lion’s share. But the blistering pace at which other languages have ‘grown’ on the internet clearly shows that in the days and decades to come, English is set to lose its monopoly.
Global businesses with a presence across various countries are very serious about getting their online content translated into localized languages, in their quest to capture foreign markets. Studies reveal that 56.2 percent of online buyers consider browsing in their native language more important than the price of the products or services they are checking out. A whopping 46 percent of online buyers are so particular about language that they don’t make purchases if products or services are offered in a foreign language. But simply translating the text of a website into local languages may not be enough. In fact, it may even prove to be detrimental for your business in some very extreme cases.
Translation is definitely your first step towards reaching users or prospective customers in another country. But this initiative remains incomplete if proper localization efforts are not made. At the end of the day, you have to strike a chord with the user.
Here are some crucial reasons why mere translation without proper localization will only have a partial impact on your users:
People Connect with Ideas and Culture, Language is Just a Medium
Take the example of a hard-core capitalist living in a Western country and a convinced communist hailing from the East. Let’s say, English is the mother tongue for both of them. Would they be able to gel well despite speaking the same language? Most unlikely. The same language wouldn’t necessarily be enough to bridge the wide gap between people with contrasting ideas and philosophies.
Same goes with culture as well. People associate with each other culturally, and language acts as a medium for conveying those sensibilities. By changing the language on your website, you will definitely make the medium of communication common. But this may not be enough to create a homely feeling and it could fail to build trust if the text is not tailored according to the cultural sensibilities of the targeted customers.
It is very important to check the translated language for figures of speech, phrases or examples that may sound offensive to the end user. What is acceptable in one culture can be deemed offensive in another, which is a common feature. The translated content may be missing some key words or sentences in the local language that could have otherwise made the product more appealing to users by connecting with them emotionally.
For example, writing “Every dog has its day,” is fine with some people, but people in some cultures can find the usage derogatory or disrespectful or irrelevant. Hence, language should be adapted as per the sensitivities of the people. Those who seek to market translated content should take this fact into account.
Visuals Help People Connect, But They Have a Reciprocal Effect Too
Translation involves working with text. However, the images in your website will grab your users’ attention long before they get to read your content. In fact, how long these users will stay on your website largely depends on the visuals you use.
For example, your website displays the photograph of a happy family featuring a smiling, cute-looking daughter, flanked by a man and a woman wearing casuals. The users from the West will be able to easily connect with this image. But it will fail to strike a connection with a user from the Arab world, whose mind would be subconsciously expecting the man and woman of the happy family to sport traditional Arabic attire and not Western casuals.
An image of men and women dancing will depict fun in Europe, whereas in a conservative society, it may symbol promiscuity.
When working on localization, you will have to replace generic images with images that will be received well by the users in the particular region or culture you are targeting.
Layout of the Website should Change with the Orientation of Language
Let’s say you want to translate your website straight away from English to Arabic. Now, there’s a problem that you will face – English is written and read from left to right while it is the exact opposite for Arabic.
It is a well-known observation that people who read English or languages whose orientation is from left to right, read a body of text in an F-shaped pattern. Which means that they start from the top-left, go full length to the right, and then slowly scan downwards, completing an F-shaped visual trail. This trend makes it necessary for web designers to build the website in such a way that majority of the content, especially headlines, subheadings and bullet-points, lies on the left side of the web pages.
Now, if an Arabic-speaking user is browsing your website, his natural pattern of approaching the content would be the mirror image of ‘F’. His eyes will search for key points on the right-hand side of the pages, while the key elements are only on the left side. Hence, the design and text flow of the entire website, including the left-or-right placement of images should be set keeping in mind the visual orientation of the user. This adjustment goes well beyond translation.
The reasons discussed above make one thing amply clear. If you want to flatter your foreign audience, translation alone may not be enough. Translation, together with well-researched and contextual localization, will enable your content to make an impact in new places and among new cultures. Proper localization will ultimately influence users from far-flung corners of the world to make the decisions that you want them to make.
If you are going for translation only, instead of a fully-relevant localization, you are running the risk of leaving some of your website’s potential unrealized.
At Bablic, we understand the complexity of translation and localization, and we provide user-friendly, top-quality solutions to our customers, regardless of the level of localization they choose. If you are planning to go global, try Bablic for quick and efficient transltion, and state-of-the-art localization services.