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Europe is a significant frontier for businesses, particularly those involved in e-commerce. Recent figures have shown that 24.2% of the world’s Internet users come from the European Union. Germany has the most European web surfers with 65.1 million users, followed by Russia with 59.7 million users, and then the UK with 51.4 million users. The total figure for European Internet users is 475 million, which represents a remarkable 352% growth since 2000.
A recent survey by the EU Eurobarometer, however, has indicated that European web users are frustrated by a lack of native language content. According to the latest research, over half of all European Internet surfers use a language other than their native tongue when online, with 44% of those surveyed stating that this was a barrier to truly understanding the online content.
Unremarkably, English appears to be the working language for the Internet, with the EU survey recording that 48% of European web surfers are resorting to English when a native translation is unavailable. Although this may be common practice for some nations, especially those with strong historical connections to the English language such as Cyprus and Malta, other nations appear more reluctant to read English websites. For instance, only 45% of Latvians and 35% of Italians would consider reading a website in a language other than their own.
The research also illustrated the economic impact for firms that inadequately translate their websites. Only 18% of EU internet users polled would purchase goods or services in a foreign language. Poorly translated web content represents a missed opportunity for firms that operate on the Internet. Digital Agenda commissioner at the EU, Neelie Kroes, argues that in order to make “every European digital,” web administrators need to make sure that their audience can fully understand the web content that they want.
Similarly Trenton Moss, director at web consultancy Webcredible, has suggested that accurate language translations are key for firms aiming to extend their global reach. Moss also claims that many businesses are too casual with their translations, with this only succeeding in isolating potential clients.
Yet translation technologies are readily available, with some even being freely distributed.
BBC Wales has developed a new computer program that has allowed the instant translation of Welsh-language websites into English. This technology lets you hold your cursor over a word and receive an English translation without having to leave the webpage. This new software is now available to download free of charge to Welsh language sites outside of the BBC.
Graham Davies, Executive Producer of Welsh language New Media at BBC Wales, outlines the importance of this software: “Imagine how difficult it is for someone whose native language is not English to complete official forms online when they are faced with terms such as ‘superannuation’ or ‘mortgagor’.” Davies adds that “an English-Urdu version of this software could enable such sites to be accessible to thousands more people in the UK”.
However, to truly relate to a foreign audience, digital marketing experts Dianne Cyr and Haizley Trevor-Smith suggest that websites need more that an ‘idiomatic language translation’.
‘It is expected that when websites are appropriate and culturally sensitive, users will have increased access to content and enhanced user experiences’. Consequently, along with precise translation, websites need localisation, which, simply put, means that your website needs to be altered in order to make it suitable for other cultures.
Current research states that appropriate web-design would benefit e-commerce. Cyr and Trevor-Smith conclude that website design influences the development of online trust, loyalty, and satisfaction. Therefore localisation would require Internet sites to adapt layout, symbols, navigation, and use of colour for each local audience.
This hypothesis is supported by the work of Wendy Barber and Albert Badre, who note that individual colours have different connotations for different cultures. For instance, the colour red may mean ‘stop’ or ‘danger’ in the US, but to the Chinese, red symbolizes happiness, while in France, red is an aristocratic colour.
Insufficient translation of websites for the European audience has manifested itself into feelings of frustration and alienation for many European web surfers. This creates a barrier to the full comprehension of a text, as well as fostering an unwillingness of European consumers to purchase goods and services in a foreign language.
This has an impact for any web firm, but there are strategies to counter these problems. Firstly, there are good translation agencies and technologies available that guarantee effective localised marketing copy. The second point is that a simple translation of text would not sufficient. Current research suggests that to truly connect with a global audience, and subsequently gain consumer trust, the aesthetic localisation of layout, symbols, navigation, and colour is required.
organisations need to effectively relate to international audiences to benefit from the increasingly global marketplace.