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Should You Translate Your Web Site to Another Language?

By June Campbell

In 2001, half the users of the Web do not speak English as a first language. What's more, the number of non-English speaking newcomers is growing at a much faster rate than the number of English speaking Internet newcomers. However, 80% of the information on the web is in English.

Should you make your web site available in languages other than English? If you are interested in reaching overseas markets and doing business with persons from other cultures, it's almost a necessity. As one expert pointed out, they call it the World Wide Web because it represents international audiences.

If you are considering translating your site (and you do know that translation software is not a good choice, right?), consider the following:

* If you have the language skills, you can translate the web site yourself. The QWERTY keyboard works for every language in the world. However, if you are planning to translate to characters other than those found in the Western alphabet, you will need a phonetic map (a software application that maps the keyboard input into characters). For example, if you wanted to write "Tokyo" in Japanese, you would type in TOKYOO then hit the space bar. The mapping software would show you the two most likely characters. If they were not what you were looking for, you would hit the space bar again and be shown all the options that are available to you.

*You will need an international browser. Both Netscape and Explorer are available in international versions.

*Your operating system is an additional consideration. Windows 2000 and XP are said to support all languages using a standard called Unicode. Apple offers language kits that can be installed in the MAC OS. If your web site is to contain sophisticated programming, you will also require international developmental tools (i.e. Japanese DreamWeaver, etc.)

*If you don't want to do your translation in-house, a localisation company can provide your translation services. A good localisation company will be using translators that not only speak the language fluently, but also are familiar with the culture and customs of the target market. In America, for example, you would not use the same marketing message to reach a twenty year old as you would use to reach a baby boomer. Nor would you use the same language to market to a stay-at-home mom as you would use to reach a career woman. Similar differences occur within other cultures, and your translator must be familiar with the culture of your target market.

*Localisation companies can also support your business services. It is not enough to simply translate your web site. You must be able to process the orders and service your customers in their language.

*If your web site is going to be updated regularly, discuss a maintenance package. Some companies will monitor your English web site for changes, then make corresponding modifications to your international sites.

*Your web server could require special enablements. Ask your web administrator for input. Localisation companies also assist in this area. When selecting a localisation company, look for one that asks a lot of questions. They must thoroughly understand your business needs before they can provide the type of service you need. A multicultural development company can also offer suggestions regarding the design of your site and how it will work in different cultures. Your company might also be able to suggest ways of modifying site architecture to save you money.

*Ask your localisation company for a weekly report on the status of your project.

Fees will vary. Do price comparisons, but remember that price should not be the only consideration.

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