Lost in Translation

Localizing a corporate Web site can be a tricky, time-consuming affair. This may explain why few companies have attempted it.

WorldMetal.com has been launched in English, Chinese, and German, with Russian and Japanese on the way. The BroadVision system, while a time- saver, must still be supplemented by human translators. Rather than outsource to a translation agency, managers at WorldMetal.com decided to keep the talent in-house. Three translators are employed in Hong Kong and five in China.

John Sun, WorldMetal.com’s financial controller, says he gets better value this way. “Translation-company professionals don’t understand the metal and steel industry as well,” he explains. “Our translators sit next to people with industry expertise. It makes for more-accurate translation, which ultimately saves costs.”

At New York-based ScreamingMedia (www.screamingmedia.com), a provider of content infrastructure, syndication, and services, managers tackled localization by turning to outsourcer eTranslate (www.etranslate.com). “eTranslate consulted with us on issues of language and culture,” says David Obstler, CFO at ScreamingMedia. “They assessed our site for localization red flags.”

As with most localization projects, there was plenty of ground to cover. eTranslate looked at linguistic issues, particularly regional slang, buzzwords, and other hard-to-translate idioms. Consultants also went over back-end issues, including the implications of translation on the database, concatenating text strings, and text embedded in code.

ScreamingMedia staffers identified Web-site files that needed translation, as well as annotations that might help with the localization. eTranslate then isolated translatable text and worked with the client to create a glossary to guide translators through pitfalls like proprietary terms and product names. Finally, eTranslate sent a functioning version of the site to ScreamingMedia for review.

So far, ScreamingMedia’s site has been translated into German, French, Spanish for Latin America, Portuguese for Brazil, and British English for the UK.

Gobsmacked

That may surprise some. Conventional wisdom among US corporates seems to be: Hey, English is English.

Don’t tell that to Tanya Field. Last March, Field was appointed director of new media for Discovery Networks Europe (www.discovery.com). A subsidiary of the global media company Discovery Communications Inc., London-based Discovery Networks Europe delivers nine channels across 49 territories in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Field was hired to help the company meet growing demand for value-added services that support its cable programming. This entailed hiring US vendor Immersant (now part of Bowne Global Solutions; www.bowneglobal.com) to create Web sites in five European languages. Discovery’s London staff tackled the UK market. To her surprise, Field soon found out that economies of scale in a uniform language environment don’t exist. “It’s impossible for us to successfully port anything written for the US market to the UK without a total re-edit job,” she insists.

This, Field says, goes beyond spelling words with “ise” instead of “ize.” Anything written about World War II, for instance, can be a minefield. “Countries have different perspectives on who won the war [for the Allies],” Field notes. “It’s a subject that needs to be treated with kid gloves.”

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