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Translating German Websites

The ins and outs of German website translation for business and translators.

According to Internet World Stats for 2015, almost 900 million English-language users surf the Internet, compared to 83 million German-speakers. So in an ideal world, translating German websites into English extends their potential reach by 1000%!

The world is online, making the website translation a necessity. If you’re looking for a product or a service, the Internet is the first place you go. Any German company or organisation looking to sell its products or services outside its national market translate its website into English.

Ecommerce is booming, with US$1.4 trillion being spent online in 2015. This is an increasing trend, and so a multilingual presence, even if only digital, makes good business sense, whatever language you work in.


Tools for translating German websites

Plug “website translation” into Google and you get reams of free, (largely useless) instant machine translation providers – Google’s own Translate, Yahoo! Babel Fish, Worldlingo, Paralink etc. (See the sort of job a free online translator does.)

Yes, machine translation is constantly improving, but no, you certainly shouldn't risk your public image by using it to translate your website.

There are also lots of free “page translator” widgets floating out there. Once embedded onto your website, visitors can instantly translate your page into their own language. A nice free add-on for small, personal sites. But that’s it.

At the top end of the scale comes human, multi-lingual website translation – making an organisation’s products and services available to a multinational audience.

This is what a localization (L10n) or globalization (G11n) language provider offers, drawing on a team of translators, project managers, content management specialists and webmasters. Any globally active enterprise will have shifted considerable proportions of its communications budget to this area.

However, most German-speaking companies and organisations who reach out to an English-speaking audience will probably require something rather less complicated – and that's where translation agencies and freelance translators come into play.


What to consider before translating a German website..

There are 3 aspects of website translation - technical, linguistic, and cultural.

We take a more detailed look below:

1.Technical

German website translation involves:

a. Translating the website texts
b. Everything else....

I’ve found a website claiming that the actual translation process probably only makes up 25% of the work and expense of creating and supporting a multi-lingual website, with everything else falling under the heading of “IT and process overheads”.

Now, for larger organisations, this may well be the case, but smaller organisations and businesses that run and manage their own internet presence will probably just need their website text translated.

Their in-house webmasters can manage all the technicalities, including:

  • Website design and infrastructure
  • HTML and XML
  • Hyperlinks and hypertext
  • Text production and conversion
  • Navigation and gateways

Website translation involves a variety of file formats. Translators need to leave the safe confines of Microsoft Word and enter into the worlds of HTML, PHP, ASP, CGI, XHTML, XML, Flash, Java, CSS, and ASP etc. , all the time ensuring that the original coding remains intact. For translators, this is where translator software, i.e. CAT tools comes into its own.

Unsurprisingly, large organizations looking for a significant web presence in a variety of languages will often turn to specialized language service providers (LSPs)or localization companies.

These agencies have the resources necessary for project managing larger website translations involving teams of translators, plus the necessary localization and web development services.

The process of German website translation involves:

  • Distributing the source language texts as translation modules amongst the translators
  • Re-importing the translated files into a content management system (CMS)
  • Running quality checks for term consistency, text length etc..,
  • Editing and revision
  • Uploading the translated texts into the newly designed multi-lingual website
  • Running website tests to check the final product

The software challenges can be impressive – just think of the problems in incorporating both right-to-left (e.g. Arabic, Farsi) and left-to-right languages into a single CMS system!

Another important aspect not to be forgotten is SEO – search engine optimization.

One aspect of SEO is to ensure the pages on your website are written to take advantage of popular keywords.

They help your website get found by the search engines and pushed to the top of the listings (- which is why you found this website!).

Assuming the English version of your German website should be equally effective, it needs to include keywords popular in the second language – this turns the process of translation into one of transcreation.

So be clear about the work involved before commissioning German translations of your website.


2. Linguistic

A badly translated company website doesn't create confidence in the products or services the company is trying to sell. So this is very emphatically not an area in which any organisation should cut corners to save costs.

With our focus is German website translation, our target audience is native English-speakers in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ, etc. Plus every non-German speaker using English as their second language and/or international language of communication.

Upshot: the translated text must be accessible to English-speakers from different geographical areas, backgrounds, and levels of English comprehension.

That means it needs to avoid linguistic formulations that could cause misunderstanding or even offence: as a rule, idioms, culturally-specific jokes, and jargon don't translate well.

Keep the language clear and simple, and the sentences short.


3. Cultural

The cultural aspects of website translation includes the small details you perhaps wouldn’t immediately think of.

But when forgotten, they make your website feel oh-so translated. They include:

  • Imperial measurements for the US v. metric for Europe
  • Different ways of writing numbers and figures (e.g. German currency, with its different use of commas and decimal points).
  • Dates and times (e.g. April 23, 2012 = 4.23.12 in the US but 23.4.12 in Europe)

Every language interface needs to be professionally adapted to suit the cultural and linguistic conventions of its target audience. As well as pure text, this also includes navigation, graphics, optimization, changing URLs and link addresses etc.

This all comes under the heading of localization (L10n) which is really the official way of saying think about CONTEXT!

Cultural considerations can also be far broader, such as the need to adapt particular marketing strategies to meet the expectations of the local market.

Naturally, these cultural aspects will be less significant for our German-English language combination than if you were targeting a website for an Asian audience, for example.

But forgetting can still make your German translation feel like just that - a translation, rather than an original piece of text.


German websites need constant updating...

Maintaining a multilingual website can be a considerable ongoing expense for many companies. But as the first point of reference for any potential customer, and increasingly a sales platform, investing in a well-written English version of a German website makes good business sense.

The benefits of a regularly updated website include:

  • A unified & directly controllable point of contact with your target audience
  • Immediate impact – gets time-sensitive information & news to your customers instantly
  • Eliminates printing costs – downloadable PDF versions of your internal & external, general and specific publications largely replace printed materials 
  • An interactive interface which encourages customer interaction and builds closer relationships.
  • Digital leverage, by using similar content to spread your impact to parallel media e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.


I translate many German website news texts and company communications into English. In fact, as more organisations rely on their websites as a dynamic marketing & PR too, this type of job is taking up an increasingly large portion of my German translation workload.

It's a win for translators everywhere, as well as for the website owners themselves who benefit from a dynamic online platform which allows them to directly focus communications on their target groups.


The bottom line?

Business:

Think about what you really need from a website translation.

If you “only” want to offer an English version of your German website and have your own in-house webmasters and/or PR department, then you’ll be fine working closely with a single translator or a small translation agency.

Establishing an ongoing relationship with your translator/translation team means they get to know your business inside out, ensuring terminological consistency and the appropriate language for your target audience.

Larger corporations tend to outsource the management of their internet presence to PR & communications agencies. These, in turn, outsource the actual translation work to a translation agency – which then passes on the translation to a freelancer such as me. (That’s a lot of links - you might want to consider embedding a translator slightly higher up the value chain.....)

Translators:

If you sell website translation services, be clear about what you can offer.

Do you just translate German into English in Word format and then hand back the results? Or are you web-savvy and at feel home working in a variety of file formats? Can you market yourself as a specialist website translator, or combine your translation and webmaster services?

Website translation must be one of the fastest growing translation sectors, and a specialism is always a good thing...


Whether you are looking to purchase or sell website translation services, I hope this article on translating German websites has provided a little food for thought.


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