Content translations are always an important step for any business faced with the challenge of launching large online campaigns or managing an international web presence. But while your IT teams may be able to take advantage of the latest technologies such as microservices architectures or headless eCommerce, the downstream tools and processes for content creation and localization are often much more antiquated.
Managing translations with Excel?
When asked how their content translation processes are managed, 50% of customers respond with a somewhat surprising answer: Excel.
A spreadsheet tool used for translations? Interesting.
A solution based on 40 year old software technology hardly seems like the best answer for today's content challenges. But, in many cases, tools like Excel offer customers the easiest way to structure their content and metadata so that it can be translated by an external or internal translation professional. But it's far from a fast or simple process. The content must be laboriously transferred into the spreadsheet (field-by-field) via copy and paste. Then, once the content has been translated, the new text has to be manually inserted into your CMS. This is a manual, horrendously complex, error-prone and very time-consuming process. As a result, many publishers and choose to translate their content only once if possible and then to update it sporadically only on special occasions. (see Lack of consistency below)
Internal or external translators?
Depending on size, complexity (and sometimes budget), translations are typically carried out by internal staff at headquarters or national subsidiaries. Although more and more translation work is now being performed by external agencies offering online services.
Many of these agencies support their processes with translation memory systems (TMS). A TMS is a tool that stores translations that have already been completed so that they can be reused for new translations. Every time the system encounters a piece of text that it has already translated, it will automatically insert the translated phrase from memory. This leads to faster processing and increases consistency, because translations are always carried out according to a uniform scheme and are not dependent on the individual language preferences of a specific translator.
Push, Pull or ignore? - How to achieve consistency
Considering that the websites of large industrial or eCommerce customers can often support 40 or even 70 different languages, there are three common approaches to localization:
- Only the main websites are localized, while the secondary sites in countries with less visitor traffic are simply copies of the English main site. This provides you with a presence in that country domain, but saves you the translation effort. The content is consistent but not tailored to the target country.
- Some websites are localized in a decentralized manner. The head office will determine the content for the main pages and each regional team is responsible for copying and localizing the content for their own country websites. This is also referred to as the PULL principle, because the local teams have to take the initiative to extract the content from the master page. The advantage of this approach is that each country takes responsibility for the content that is most important for their specific region and can fill in any missing content themselves. The disadvantage is that these processes are often poorly defined and inconsistently implemented - so that the regional sites usually deviate significantly from the Master sites in both tone and content. Consistency therefore suffers.
- The websites are localized centrally (i.e. translated by the head office and then transferred to each separate country websites (PUSH principle). The advantage of this approach is that these processes are often automated and can be created and distributed quickly and with a high degree of consistency in collaboration with a central service provider. The disadvantage is that country managers often feel ignored and that not enough attention is being paid to country-specific aspects. This approach can ensure consistency across multiple regional websites, but it is typically met with resistance from the regional teams during implementation due to a lack of relevance to their respective markets and their specific situations.
Translating content, not literal words
Localization sounds so easy. After all, you just take a content item, copy it, translate it into the national language and release it. Et voilà! Unfortunately, this has nothing to do professional translation and localization workflows and also shows why Excel cannot be a solution at all.
Every company sells products and services in a particular market to a specific local clientele. And every company has a certain style of describing or explaining their solutions. Large companies even provide a style guide for product and marketing copy, which all authors must follow.
This is also why large translation service providers such as Translations.com usually work with an empty translation memory at the start of a project. On one hand, this seems astonishing because the training requirements the beginning of a project will obviously be much higher. On the other hand, it does a better job of capturing the client's tone and use of the language - allowing them to reproduce it correctly and consistently in all local variants. In this way, no single word is localized. Instead, entire sentences or paragraphs are adapted to the customer's linguistic preference.
Another important benefit is the adaptation of the language to the respective context of the user. It's easy to understand that, for example, certain product names should not be translated because they will be the same in all languages. Likewise, certain technical terms in English are often used without translation in many regions (e.g. hardware, micro service, cache). Some translations, however, only make sense when the word is used in a very specific context. An automated system can often not recognize this. In addition, external conditions must sometimes be taken into account, such as the text limits or abbreviations that are required to properly display content in a table. Therefore, it is immensely important for a translator to know the context of the text in order to be able to create a meaningful localization.
Initial rollout is simple...
But at some point it is finished - all content is localized and rolled out for the first time. In the simplest case everything is simply copied from a master, translated and stored under a new locale. That was easy, wasn't it? Well... not quite. This is often more work to be done. For example, all links within a website must be adapted to the new country locale to ensure consistency. Fortunately, this task can be automated easily.
... but staying up-to-date is complicated.
Unfortunately, the world is a complex and content is rarely just created and localized once. In most cases it is constantly evolving. And then the question arises: how to roll out these changes to all of your localized variants?
Sometimes simply "copying" is the answer. Unfortunately, any content changes that were made at the local level will be overwritten. Well, can't you just "ask the country managers to make the necessary changes"? Sure, but this is easier said than done. Each new element must be described, then appropriate regional variations must be identified and applied to the updated content. Good luck controlling all of this. But, as they say, "hope dies last".
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