As you look for improved methods of successfully conducting business across boundaries, it’s essential that you understand some of the linguistic and formatting issues involved in communicating in digital workspaces.
Whether you’re creating a multilingual website or setting up an e-commerce store reaching out to an international audience, there are many cultural aspects that you need to take into consideration. The following tips will help you reach a wider market more effectively:
A) The written word
- Translating and localising your website: Always engage the services of a professional translator so that the message you intend to convey is accurately transmitted to customers using a different language. Try to avoid the use of willing, but untrained friends or family members offering their services as translators. Professional translators have been prepared to look out for linguistic and cultural nuances that can make a very important difference to your site and, at times, help you stay out of trouble. A professional translator has been taught to be consistent, invisible and to make the target text sound natural and flow smoothly.
- Editing and proofreading your website: Sean Coughlan, BBC’s new education correspondent, explained in his article Spelling mistakes cost millions in lost online sales published by LinkedIn on the 16 July 2011, that misspellings not only make consumers think twice about buying from that website, but they also make them cast serious concerns about the site’s credibility. Because you’ll not be able to double check the final translated and localised site, you need to rely on professional editors and proofreaders to ensure your site is as good as it can be. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are as important in cyberspace as in a book because they’re a reflection of your business and your image.
- Incorporating the right tone of voice and formalism: Think about who you are and who your customers are. You need to clarify what your tone of voice is and discuss with your translator how this tone of voice can be appropriately adapted to the target market. If your main customer base is made up of generation X and Y, you need to consider how best to address these younger audiences in the target language and whether certain formalisms are necessary or whether they would simply contribute to making the sight sound outdated and unapproachable.
B) Visual design
- Colours: The cultural basis for colour symbolism can be very powerful, and if you don’t understand what you’re saying with your colours or if you assume you can use the same colours as your present site, you can make big mistakes. It’s very easy to convey the wrong meaning by getting the colour choice wrong. Even the tone of the colours is important, as some Asian countries seem to prefer a more pastel tone of colour as opposed to the brighter shades commonly used in Western sites.
- Foreignness: When visiting your newly translated site, certain linguistic and cultural groups may experience a “foreign” look and feel. A site that exclusively depicts images and concepts from Southern USA may feel completely alien to an Asian reader and vice-versa. Equally, the structure and formatting of many Asian sites are often disconcerting and confusing to Western readers. The foreignness of the look and feel certainly works against the objective of the site which is to attract the customer and in many cases work as a call of action to purchase a certain item or service. A simple solution may be to apply CSS designs on a section-by-section basis so that the preferences of each region are taken into consideration and accommodated accordingly.
C) Website performance
Norms for Internet connectivity and speed of connection vary around the world. Koreans, for example, enjoy very fast Internet connections – 10 Mbps and up. So, if your connection is too slow for these users and it performs under their expectations, they will simply move onto a faster site. To resolve this problem, you may need to add mirror servers in the countries where your connection slows down and a replication scheme to ensure content is always up to date.
Intercultural differences do have an impact on the way people navigate through websites. Don’t forget their importance and make sure you take them into account in designing your site, its content and its format.
Teresa Rodriguez is a linguist and specialist in intercultural communication, holding a MA in intercultural conflict resolution and a Post-grad. diploma in Translating and Interpreting. Teresa is an avid online researcher, social media player and bilingual content producer. She also writes in her own blogs No-mad, and Digital cultures and translation.