When a client says, “Translate our website”

“We’re thinking about translating our website!”

Those words, “translate our website,” can strike both excitement and fear in the heart of a freelance translator. On the one hand:

  • Website translations are generally interesting, and often involve a lot of content. Clients generally care a lot about their online presence, so they’re willing to put time, care, and money into their website translation–it’s not just a boilerplate document that no one will ever look at again.
  • Website translations can be a logistical and technological rat’s nest. Clients often have the idea that they want to “translate their website” without having a clear idea of what that means. Translate the whole thing, or just parts? Translate the user interface, or just the content? Display the other language’s content on the same page as the original, or in a whole other version of the site? Let alone the translation process itself…things can rapidly become more complicated than they seemed at first.

Now is a good time to look for website translation work

I like translating websites, and just did a big website translation for one of my direct clients. Additionally, I think that a lot of clients may be thinking about translating their websites, now that in-person life is so constrained. Here are a few tips I gleaned, and I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences too.

Considerations when translating a website

  • Always ask at the outset, “What technical process are we going to be using?” My client–for various reasons, including but not limited to translation–wanted to work in Word files. They created all of the new content for the site in Word, then sent me the Word files for translation. For me, this meant that the translation process was very simple; I translated the files in Trados for consistency purposes, but I didn’t have to deal with any HTML files or other translation interfaces. However (big “however”) this meant that the client’s web design firm had to insert all of the French and English content into their page templates, then a staff person had to proofread every single French page, and I had to proofread every single English page. This was time-consuming, but there were minimal opportunities for things to break down, from the technical standpoint. I translated in Word files (simple), the designer pasted the text into the pages (laborious but simple), and I proofread the pages and sent back a table with the corrections (also simple).
  • This is a situation where you sort of have to “pick your poison.” If the website you’re translating is in WordPress (and I’d assume that Squarespace and other platforms have similar plugins), it can be really, really helpful if you can steer the client toward a plugin like TranslatePress. This allows you to translate in the front end of the website; you don’t have to deal with HTML code and no one has to paste text. This is probably the solution I’d pick if a client asked me. However, I think that translation plugins can cause some hassles: “we don’t want to add another technical layer to the project,” “our designer has never used this before and isn’t comfortable with it,” “we want all of the translated files in one place so that we can review them before they’re on the site,” etc. etc. I think the level of resistance you’ll encounter has to do with how tech-savvy the client is.
  • Always (like, always always always) bring up proofreading and QA at the outset of the project. Who’s doing the proofreading and QA, and is the cost included in your initial quote, or is it separate? It’s bad enough to have a typo in a document, but much more publicly embarrassing if there are typos on a client’s website for the whole world to see. The entire site must be proofread before it goes live. When I proofed my client’s English site, I used TextAloud, my favorite speech-to-text tool that I’m always raving about. It was an absolute lifesaver; so much better than visually proofreading web pages for 20 hours.
  • A place to add value: remind the client that a multilingual website is likely (let’s hope!) to generate inquiries from people reading the site in languages other than the original. What then? How will the client follow up on inquiries in other languages? This is particularly important for businesses that provide services or content that depend on language. If the client sells a physical product, maybe this isn’t much of a consideration; a multilingual ordering interface will simply allow people to place orders in their language that are then fulfilled like any other order. But let’s say the client is an Italian ski resort that wants an English website. Probably a good idea. But what happens when they start getting reservation inquiries in English? Will the English website create a demand for English-speaking staff, and can the client fill that demand? You can add a lot of value by flagging this up front, before the client goes crazy with a multilingual online presence.

Any other website translation tips out there?? Other technology tools that might be helpful?

8 Responses to “When a client says, “Translate our website””
  1. Dani Otheguy May 30, 2020
  2. Chiara Vecchi May 30, 2020
    • Corinne McKay May 30, 2020
  3. Anne Prestwich May 30, 2020
    • Corinne McKay May 30, 2020
  4. Kerstin June 2, 2020
    • Corinne McKay June 2, 2020

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