Working with French companies for over twenty years provides good insight into their translation needs and how they solve them. Translating websites into English is a common dilemma: should you or shouldn’t you, and where to start? This post discusses five mistakes I often see businesses making.
#1 Not thinking about Why
In today’s global world, it’s easy to form the impression that if your business website isn’t in English, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to attract new clients and impress people. In some cases, that may be true.
For many small and local businesses, it’s simply not the case. So, before you start asking for quotes or think about adding that Google Translate Plugin to your website, ask this one question:
Why do I need my website translated into English?
What will it achieve? Which market do I want to tap into and what return on investment do I expect? Unless you’re clear on this, then having an English website will be like throwing a message in a bottle out to sea.
#2 Not thinking about Who
OK, so you know you have a potential market outside of France. Now you need to narrow it down even further and ask yourself:
Who am I targeting?
The more precise you are, the more effective your communication will be. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, as this is no doubt the approach you took when designing the content of your website in your native language, to begin with. Yet this is crucial when it comes to translation.
English comes in different shapes and sizes. Are you targeting clients in the UK, Europe, the USA, or somewhere else? Spelling, style and cultural references are not the same. Are you targeting native English speakers or is it their second language? This is a key factor for getting readers on board.
They want to feel you’re speaking directly to them, not to someone thousands of miles away that they don’t relate to.
#3 Asking an English speaker they know to do the translation
This seems like the obvious solution. You have a friend, colleague or secretary that speaks English and can easily translate your content for you. Hey, there’s not even that much text to translate so it won’t be hard.
I understand the temptation here. I really do. As an English person in France, I did lots of translations as a favour, long before I became a professional translator. But, here’s the thing. I have learned a LOT about honing my art since I entered the profession.
Translation is a skill! It’s much more than just swapping words.
It takes perception, creativity, cultural insight and a keen eye for consistency and flow. You are French – does that mean you would be comfortable writing a novel? Why not? You speak French, don’t you? A website has to captivate a reader in a matter of seconds. You want to make sure those first few words hit home and resonate.
#4 Thinking it’s simply a case of putting their French text into English
Now, this might seem like a strange one – surely that’s the whole point of translation, right? Well, yes, but… a website is more than just text. It’s your essence, your brand, it’s an emotion. And emotions, priorities and snappy one-liners cannot always be conveyed in the same way.
Take an example – everyone in France knows the Mars slogan Mars, et ça repart. However, for over 50 years, their English slogan was A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. That translates as Un Mars par jour vous aide à travailler, vous réposer et vous amuser. Far less catchy in French, you’ll agree!
Technically, it might be possible to translate directly, but the end result isn’t the same. And yet those few words Mars, et ça repart captures the notion of work, rest and the energy provided by the chocolate bar. I suspect this was not the work of “that French guy who works in accounts”.
This is an extreme example – translating trade names and slogans is a speciality in itself. But it demonstrates my point. There are words, then there’s the message and emotions behind the words. Different languages and different cultures may not use the same words or examples to say the same thing. Lastly, some of your French content might be irrelevant to an English reader. A translator will take all these things into account.
#5 Thinking it’s expensive
When you have a bilingual secretary at your fingertips (see number 3 above), a professional translation might seem like an unnecessary expense. You might think you don’t have the budget. To which my reply would be – can you afford to do it cheaply?
The results of a beautifully designed, engaging website are easily measured by leads, clicks, conversions and sales. What is impossible to gauge though, is the opposite – the number of potential clients lost because they take one look at your website and feel alienated or not concerned by your offering.
One single word in an otherwise perfect sentence is a giveaway that a text is not written by a native speaker, and while a foreign accent may sound charming to the ear, it has quite the opposite effect in black and white. What do customers want? To feel understood. Investing in translation services can help you do that.
To make sure your business makes the right investment, contact me today for a no-obligation chat.