On Top Of The World

Avoiding Pitfalls

The perils of poor translation are obvious, even ludicrous. Who can forget Chevrolet's failure to realize that, in Spanish, "no va" means "does not go"? Other issues, however, are more subtle.

For example, it's not enough to simply decide you want your materials or Web site translated into Spanish. Which part of the Spanish-speaking world do you want to target? The terms and idioms used in South America are very different from those used in Spain or Mexico. Similarly, according to Carson, the French-speaking Qu├ębecois do not respond well to marketing materials written in "Parisian" French.

George Hallak, president of AramediA Group, an Arabic software firm in Boston, points out that there are at least 22 Arabic nations and dialects; an experienced localizer should know that the accepted business standard for the region is "Modern Standard Arabic." To further confuse matters, some languages also have formal and informal versions. Make sure the localizer you choose understands cultural idioms and regional variations of the language.

Your problems compound when you seek to tap markets that use non-English, Roman alphabetic languages (e.g., western European); non-Roman alphabetic languages (e.g., Arabic, Greek or Russian); or nonalphabetic languages (e.g., Asian). To use any non-English language on your Web site, you must ensure your browser supports language fonts containing accents, diacritical marks and special characters. Putting an Arabic or Hebrew translation on your Web site is even more complicated because these languages are read from right to left.

The complications involved in using Asian languages on your Web site exceed the capabilities of most homebased offices. The fonts needed for these languages contain more than 7,000 characters. A standard PC doesn't have the screen resolution to display such fonts, and most standard servers can't handle the system requirements of such languages; a double-byte operating system is needed.

One solution to this problem, according to Carson, is to incorporate your translated material as an image rather than as text. Too many complex graphics, however, can increase the download time required to access your site. If you want to post a lot of material, another alternative is to have your Web site hosted by the localization agency's server or by an ISP.

Nor is language the only issue you must address. If you're setting up a Web site, you'll also need to make culturally sensitive decisions regarding graphics, icons, interfaces and even the colors you use. Squire relates the tale of Euro-Disney, whose designer loved purple and used it lavishly throughout the theme park. Unfortunately, to the French, purple suggests funerals and funeral parlors. Similarly, while red is considered stimulating in the United States, it is regarded as restful in China. White symbolizes death in most Asian countries, while "yellow should be avoided pretty much altogether," Squire says, as it often has negative connotations.

Combining colors in a graphic can also be a problem, says Carson--if those colors represent the hues of a rival country's flag. While such concerns might seem trivial to a U.S. audience, it's important to remember many countries are embroiled in intense rivalries. "If you're marketing a product to Chile," Carson cautions, "you don't want your Web site colors to represent the flag of Brazil."

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