Speaking your language

March 6, 2023

If your business has a website then it’ll be available to view all over the world – which makes sense, as it’s the ‘worldwide web’. However, this isn’t strictly true, as there are some territories where it won’t be available, such as Iran and North Korea.

The majority of websites are targeting just their home market though and, quite often, your customers might just be in your local area. Even so, you could have clients or suppliers which aren’t based in the UK, and you may have thought about translating all or part of your website into a different language to make it easier for them.

Some organisations have taken this to another level and, wanting to engage with as many people as possible, make as much effort as possible to have their website available in myriad languages. The most translated website in the world is the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is currently available in around 1055 different languages. Wikipedia is the next most translated, at 326 languages.

The first time you visit a website outside of your own jurisdiction, you will typically be asked where you are based? Once you’ve selected a location, then this will be noted in your cookies and you should end up in the correct language version of the website for your locality next time you visit – assuming you’re using the same machine and you haven’t gone ‘incognito’.

Of course, nowadays, website visitors can get a website translated themselves via say Chrome. Sometimes the translation isn’t always correct though. We were looking at an Instagram post of a spring scene in Antwerp recently and it has been automatically translated as ‘Great spring weather! Do you also see the crocodiles and the pigeon sitting on its nest enjoying the wonderful sun?’ There weren’t any crocodiles, thankfully, but a park full of crocuses!  If you are keen to attract customers based in a particular territory, you may decide to translate your website for them – to avoid mixing up crocodiles with crocuses.

That isn’t always as straightforward as it appears though. You might be based in the UK but have a growing number of customers or contacts in the US. You might think that they will be comfortable simply reading your website but, as George Bernard Shaw is credited as saying in the 1940s ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’.

If you are involved in the motor-trade for instance, then the boot of a car in the UK, in a trunk in the US, while a bonnet in the UK is a hood in the US, and a windscreen in the UK is a windshield in the US. It can lead to confusion.

If there are words which you know are different in the two territories and are likely to be used a fair bit on your website, it is possible to insert some code which automatically translates words – such as gear stick to gear shift.

A potential problem of having two lots of ‘English’ website copy is that Google might flag this up as an issue, identifying it is duplicate content. To avoid this scenario and make it clearer to Google, consider cross-linking page by page. In other words, provide links between pages with the same content in different languages.

English isn’t the only language which is common in a number of countries. Spanish isn’t only spoken in Spain but a number of South American countries too, including Argentina and Chile. And, like the UK and the US, there are differences in the way it is spoken.

Other countries have more than one official language. If you have customers in Switzerland, do you consider translating your website into all four of its official languages. Even Belgium has three official languages and Canada has two.

If you do decide to translate your website, you might only decide to translate certain pages. For instance, your news section might include news which only applies to the UK. Then, do you decide to employ the services of a professional translator – which could prove costly but will give you peace of mind that it’s been done properly.

Translating your website into a different language isn’t all about just changing the language, it’s worth considering culture as well. Humour, for instance, doesn’t always travel well.

It’s also worth considering that there are regional differences in language across the UK. If you are an online bakery business, with the ability to distribute your baked goods across the UK, then be aware of how you describe your bread rolls. Depending on where your customer is based, they could be looking for a bap, a barm cake, a softie, a bara, a batch, a stotty, a muffin, a morning roll, an oven bottom, a buttery, a cob or a scuffler!

At Target Ink you can be assured that we are talking your language. Get in touch

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