If your product or service is export focused, it will help if your site ‘translates’ into the languages of the countries you are targeting. Damian Scattergood, MD of STAR Translation Services, gives his advice on proper translation practices. 


If you’re new to translation, it can be a bit daunting the first time around. Where do you start in finding translators and what are the pitfalls?

TIP ONE: Include translation plans at design stage

You should think about translation from day one. Whether it’s a service, software product or website you are creating – include translation as part of the design discussion. 

Before you engage your English web design agency; think about questions to ask them. Here are a couple of design questions to get you started. 

•    Will the new site enable for translation? 

•    What process do you use?

•    If they use plugins – can this plugin work in Japanese?

•    Will we have a single website in five languages or five sites in different languages? What strategy will you take?

•    Did you know German can be 30% longer than English text? So will we have plenty of whitespace in our design, brochures, layouts? How will our brochure or website look when the text gets longer.

Remember, it’s expensive to make changes after the design phase and when the site is live. A good translation company will ask questions about your products and translation during translation. 

TIP TWO: Protect your brand

When you choose a translation agency to work with you are placing your brand in their hands.

Pick the right company for you – one that fits your culture, style and quality. Remember this is a partnership – so you will need to invest time with them.

Cost is not the only factor in translation. You’re effectively giving the translation agency your brand to manage in other languages. 

Have you ever seen a bad translation in English? How do you think your customers would view your brand with bad translation in their language? Bad translation impacts our customers and sales.


TIP THREE: Manage your terminology

It is a valuable exercise to spend time creating a dictionary of the keywords you use in your product documentation. All industries have abbreviations, acronyms and specialist terminology. However, just because you know it – does not mean everyone else does. It’s worthwhile creating a dictionary and having it translated before you start on your full translation process. 

Sometimes different people will have differences of opinion of what a word can mean – depending on the context.

Do you know the difference between an engine and a motor? Most of us use these interchangeably, however, there is a big difference. Engines are powered by combustion, motors are powered by electricity. In German, you have to make sure you use the correct version and understanding when you translate content around engines.

TIP FOUR: Provide context

Short sentences are the hardest to translate. The hardest work we do is actually in short sentences.

Row or row or row? What am I talking about? This word has multiple meanings in English.

•    Six in a row.

•    We disagreed and had a row.

•    Get in the boat and row.

For short projects, we have to go back to our customers and ask questions to clarify exactly what you are talking about.

‘Large vessels move around the body causing infractions’. 

Am I talking about blood vessels in your body? Or am I talking about ocean liners moving around the Pacific Ocean in a study of mass water bodies? 

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TIP FIVE: Use your customer’s language

When writing its best to try to write in your client’s language. Strangely enough, English can sometimes be tough to understand. If you consider the points we’ve just discussed – you may be using abbreviations and technical terms that your customers simply might not understand. 

Professional translators need to understand your text before they can translate it for someone else.

If it’s hard to figure out in English, it will be hard to translate.

Here’s some best practice advice for writing documents that you plan to translate later:

•    Shorter sentences are better. 

•    Be clear and concise.

•    Use consistent terminology.

•    Use simple phrasing.

It will improve your English customer experience and your language one too.

TIP SIX: Plan for multimedia

As technology evolves more and more multimedia now requires translation. Multimedia is still in its infancy regarding translation, and there are many potential pitfalls.

In some cultures, for example, the Middle East – depending on the topic a female voice may not be suitable for your project. Is all your content internationally acceptable?

You might be surprised when you listen to a video – what you might say, perhaps a local saying, that is not understandable in other cultures. In UK and Ireland when it rains heavily we say it is “raining cats and dogs” – but this means nothing in France – where it rains “ropes” and in Japan “earth and sand fall”.

Also, in Arabic, you read from right to left – the opposite of how we read in English. 

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TIP SEVEN: Review and give feedback

Finally, remember to invest in your partner and give the translation company feedback on the translation. 

Who knows your brand best? The answer is you and your customers do.

A good translation is built on partnership. The translation company will learn from you and over time will fine tune the style of the translation to match your brand. 

The more you talk to your translation team, about style, terminology and give constructive feedback the better your translation will be. 

For more information, visit STAR Translation.


START EXPORTING: If you have never exported before, but want to start, WebPort Global should be your first port of call.