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The dangers of publishing your website in another language

By Gerry McGovern

Publishing your website in another language is like managing a brand new website. It demands people who are expert in writing and editing in that language. The standard of English on the Web, for example, is often poor, even for those whose native language it is. It can be embarrassingly bad for websites publishing English as a foreign language.

Recently, I was talking to a website manager who wanted to find a cheaper way to run a multi-language website. He told me that what he really wanted was automatic translation software. I pointed out that this sort of software often delivered poor results. It was cheaper than getting people to do it, was his reply.

The main website of this person’s organization was in English. When I visited it I was not surprised to find that it was badly written. This organization was in the business of selling travel products. The content wasn’t selling. The manager wanted to automatically translate bad writing into worse drivel.

Some people just don’t get content. They may understand technology but they haven’t a clue how to judge what is good and bad writing. What is more, they don’t care. They see all content as basically the same. A lot of such people are still running websites. They are running these websites into the ground.

Content matters on the Web. People read it. If it’s well published, people are more likely to buy from you. They’re more likely to solve their support problem. They’re more likely to be able to renew their passport or fill out their tax form. Well written content can bring more new students to your university.

I’ve had reason to look at quite a few multi-language websites in the last six months. I wasn’t very impressed. The English translations were often riddled with the most basic grammatical errors. The content was often woefully out-of-date.

There are no marks for attempting to translate a website into another language. The reader doesn’t look at the translated website and then buy from you because you made an effort. When I read poorly written English I think poorly of the organization that wrote it. It doesn’t give me confidence.

If you can’t professionally manage a website in another language, then don’t publish it. No website is much better than an embarrassment. It’s not enough to have someone in charge who is fluent in the language in question. It’s not enough even to have a native speaker. You need someone who can professionally write in the language.

I’ve been talking about the need for quality content on the Web for many years now. It used to be hard to get anyone in a management position to listen. That has changed a lot in the last 12 months. However, there’s still a long way to go before quality organizations are as professional on the Web as they are in other areas of their businesses.

‘Publish the content you can manage’ is a fundamental rule of publishing. Too many people got carried away by the wild, technology-fuelled, free-for-all, publish-as-much-as-you-can-think-of frenzy of the early Web.

Content has consequences. Professionally managing a website in one language is a challenge many organizations are presently not up to. Managing multiple languages just multiplies the challenges.

Gerry McGovern is a web content management author and consultant

Felicia Bratu

Felicia Bratu is the operations manager of wintranslation, in charge of quality delivery and client satisfaction. As a veteran who has worked in many roles at the company since 2003, Felicia oversees almost every aspect of the company operations from recruitment to project management to localization engineering. She recently received certification as a Localization Project Manager as well as Post-Editing Certification for Machine Translation. Felicia holds a BSc. in Industrial Robotics from the University of Craiova, Romania.

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