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Can you translate my website?

6 Basic Website Translation Pointers for Beginners

By Judy Jenner

I started working in website translation when companies were just beginning to recognize that they needed a multilingual website to sell their products and services to non-English speakers. For many years, I managed the translation department for a large e-commerce travel website, (not responsible for current content!), which was the first-ever fully integrated Spanish-language website in the U.S. (pretty cool, I thought). Now, as a freelancer, I continue working on websites, but I don’t have an army of network engineers, software developers, user interface designers, usability experts, and web designers behind me. Hence, as a small business – it’s just me and my twin – we have mainly focused on text-only. Here’s an overview of how you can successfully bid on and translate websites without touching any code.

1) First of all: do yourself a favor and stick to translating non e-commerce sites. Those are sites where nothing is being sold. It gets infinitely more complicated when there’s a database and a payment processing component involved (with the exception of PayPal). Unless you know your way around CSS, Java, C++, XML, HTML, or know a software developer, I’d stay clear of those websites. In general, you are best off translating straightforward informational business sites that are limited to five or six pages and a contact page.

2) See, bid, translate. Ask the potential client to send you all the text files (or HTML, if you are comfortable with it) to be translated. It’s not necessarily your responsibility to copy the texts from the website unless that’s what the client specifically requests (and then you need to get paid for that). Plus, you might miss hidden files (those are files that you won’t be able to find unless you know the URL). There are a few nifty tools that you can use to get word counts for more complex websites. My favorite is InSpyder InSite 3.1, which has a free trial version. There is a limit on how many pages of web content can be counted with the trial version, so it might be worth it for you to buy the software for $74.95 if you will do a lot of website work. In addition, the software has other limitations (for instance, you can’t exclude pages from the count), but it’s the best tool that I have found. Your best bet is to simply have the client give you all the files – trust me, they have them. After all, they created them. Also, ask the client if you need to translate any metatags, metatitles, etc.

3) Images, slogans, and Nike. Unless you are a PhotoShop or InDesign expert, stay away from images. Most of us are linguists, not graphic designers, and you should specify that you will deliver text only. In addition, you might come across slogans embedded into images that need to be translated. You need to be sure to price these accordingly. Creating an entire new slogan in the target language – ideally, backed by an ad agency’s creative brief so you know what the intent behind the slogan is – should not be charged by the word. After all, Nike didn’t pay for three words when the original English-language “Just do it” was developed. Don’t let customers sneak in copyrighted phrases that they will use for all eternity under the regular translation rate.

4) Make a complete quote and have the customer sign it before you start. Include exact deadlines, word counts, partial payment dates (if applicable), etc. The more bases you cover, the better. If your quote is beginning to sound like a contract, that’s because it is. Once you have sent a quote to a customer and she or he has accepted it, it will become a legally binding document, so think carefully about all possible issues that could arise. You don’t want to translate an entire website only for the customer to come back and say: “We forgot a few things, our engineers were out partying last night; can you just throw them in?”

5) Content management systems. If you are very computer-savvy, you could make your clients’ lives easier by working directly in their content management systems (mostly standard open-source systems such as TYPO-3, but sometimes proprietary and custom-built systems). You should only do that if you are proficient in these types of systems, as they can be quite time-consuming to learn. Ideally, the client should integrate your translations into the website. Some translated texts might not fit in the specific areas that they are needed for (for instance, on the navigation). This is as is often the case with the websites that get translated from English into Spanish. If the translations are too long, new texts might have to be created. Consider stating in your quote that all revisions will be charged by the hour.

6) Don’t misrepresent your abilities. If the potential client asks you whether you are proficient in CSS (cascading style sheets) and you think that’s a TV show, then you need to rethink whether this project is for you. Alternatively, consider teaming up with a fellow freelancer who is in the design or programming business. I don’t think you necessarily have the obligation to disclose that you might work with third parties on a project unless it’s classified or confidential, but it doesn’t hurt to tell the client that “your network includes a team of design and programming experts to ensure we meet all your needs.”

Happy translating!

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