Website Localization and Translation
UNIVERSITY OF INNSBRUCK
Website localization poses new challenges to translators and translation studies.
The object of translation, the Web, is a new type of multidimensional source
material and the translation of web material constitutes a new type of multilingual
Translation studies must try to integrate this new challenge as it has a lot to offer.
On the other hand localization of web sites brings some new aspects into
translation studies as well. The following paper attempts to clarify the key concepts
and to describe the new object of translation, as well as to develop a strategy to
apply approaches from translation studies to website localization.
The following paper discusses the relation between web localization and translation; the
former is a relatively new form of multilingual services which has not been dealt with
adequately so far in translation studies. Some aspects of translation studies also apply to
website localization, and vice versa website localization could provide some new
insights into translation.
First, some light is shed on the central concepts of website localization. Next, we
define and describe the process of website localization and its purpose by focusing on
the overall aim of translating or localizing websites, which is followed by a brief
description of methods and strategies used in the process of localizing websites
integrating the role and the importance of business related aspects of localization.
When we speak of the localization of websites, the terminology seems rather
clear, at least in English: website is a very practical term in English. A website
encompasses all web pages which are accessible under a common Web address (domain
name) such as www.petersandrini.net. A website consists of several documents,
graphics, programs and so on, each of which is identified by a uniform resource
identifier (URI). In German, though, there is a terminology problem, as there is no
equivalent term for website. When we talk about ‘Webseiten’ (web pages) or
‘Homepage’ in German we mean all pages on the World Wide Web for a specified
company or institution. Today, the new term ‘Webauftritt’ has been created for the
English term ‘website’. In localization, it is important to note that the object of
localization is a whole website and not just one single webpage.
The second term used in the title ‘localization’ is a term which is en vogue today
and is defined as adapting a product to a particular locale (LISA 2003, Esselink 2001,
Yunker 2003). A ‘locale’ refers to a collection of people who share a language, writing
system and any other properties which may require a separate version of a product. This
could be a region, a country, or just a language community.
Localization today is used in conjunction with the terms ‘internationalization’,
which means the preparation of a product to make it suitable for efficient localization,
and ‘globalization’ which signifies the global design of a product. Website localization
is thus defined as the "process of modifying a website for a specific locale" (Yunker
As translators we may ask ourselves whether translation is a part of localization,
as pointed out in Esselink (2000), where the author defines localization as the overall
task, with translation being just a part of the process, just like any other part of the
process like project management, image adaptation or setting up a language gateway.
This would imply that the localization professional is in command and the translator is
downgraded to a mere contributor to provide foreign-language texts. On the other hand,
translation studies have come a long way in pointing out that translation involves a
linguistic as well as a cultural transfer and that the communicative intention of the target
text is of overall importance (Nord 1997, Pym 2004) (reference). Translation thus,
always involves some form of adaptation, like adaptation of text as well as of all other
items relevant to the document such as graphics etc (cf. Horn-Helf in this volume). With
website localization the text retreats into the background with all the multimedia
gadgetry assembling around it. Nonetheless, the text still remains one of the key
information assets within a web page. Translation as a task has a history of a few
thousand years, whereas localization is a phenomenon of the last 20 years. So maybe
localization is the same old phenomenon with a new name, and thus a specific type of
translation. In that case translation would be the broader concept.
In the real world there are indications for both assumptions: on the one hand, there
are specific training courses for localization professionals (LRC), associations for
professional localizers to support the notion of a new strong localization profession, and
on the other hand, we have translation training institutes offering courses on localization
and translators working in the localization industry. We have to admit, though, that
translation studies are rather slow in adopting this new field of research. But there is no
way around it, if translators and translation studies do not want to leave this field
entirely over to IT-professionals and documentation experts. Translation must deal with
localization in training programmes as well as in research. Otherwise translation will
simply be reduced to a mere text substitution process within a broader localization
2. Object of website localization
Let us now have a look at the object of localizing or translating: As already stated a
website is a container with an address, the domain name, on it. The website contains
different types of digital assets which can be texts, pictures, multimedia files such as
audio and video streaming, as well as application assets, i.e. files which can be accessed
only by using proprietary software (e.g. Ms-Word files) - in this case the web is merely
a means of distribution, that cannot represent the content directly. In addition to these
types of assets it could also contain transactional assets, i.e. information about
transactions (e.g. shopping baskets, sessions in e-commerce) as well as Community
Assets, i.e. dynamic contents in forums and chat rooms, created by the web surfers
A website contains texts in different forms and formats, usually paired with
multimedia contents. The most outstanding characteristic of web based texts is the
cross-linking of the texts or their hypertext ability. Much has been written about
hypertext and its features, and hence, the following is only a very brief summary of its
main features: No sequential entrance to a complete text is given where the reader can
read from the beginning to the end, but several short chunks of texts where the reader is
free to decide in which sequence he will read them or which texts he chooses. Due to
the specific measurements of the computer screen, the size of the webpage is limited;
so, user friendliness of the web depends on the length of a text, for if it is longer than
the screen, users have to scroll down. Furthermore, texts on the WWW are relatively
short-lived. They are very fast on-line, but disappear just as fast again, as the next
update is made.
The linguistic characteristics of Web texts have been the object of many
investigations: for example David Crystal (2001), who coins the term Netspeak as the
language of the entire Internet, up to smaller focused contributions, such as
Vengadasamy and others (2004), who investigate the language of e-Commerce-sites.
For translation studies, primary research objectives should be the assessment of these
features in the light of the translation process and its repercussions on the decisions of
A website is thus a form of online eContent, a term which is used in the
framework of the European community research programs eContent and eContentplus.
eContent localization is the translation and cultural adaptation of digital information for
local markets and we can distinguish three different types of eContent localization:
software localization, website localization, and localization of other digital resources
such as databases, documents, etc.
3. Functional approach
Some general introductions to translation studies have already tried to include the area
of Web localization but with rather short and relatively modest notes. Thus,
Williams/Chesterman (2002) in their "Beginner's Guide to Doing Research in
Translation Studies" see the following research areas: "establish the current practice,
investigate the effect of website constraints and user demands on translator's decisions
both on the micro and macro level, evaluate the product, explore the feasibility of using
controlled languages into website design to facilitate translation". While there are still
some doubts about using controlled languages for websites in view of the heterogeneity
of web documents and the strong expressive character of web advertising texts, the
authors of this book are right in pointing out the role of web text features and in
particular the role of user demands and their consequences on the decisions of the
User demands bring us back to the definition of website localization in which a
website should be made linguistically and culturally appropriate to the target locale. On
one side these are user demands from the ultimate reader of the target text, i.e. the
localized version of the website. The reader wants to read the web page in his own
language, he wants to have (expects) perfectly clear and understandable information,
but he does not want to be culturally offended by language, images, colours, and so on.
A website could be perfectly translated this way producing a culturally adapted target
On the other side there are the goals of the client which concentrate on what the
company, institution or person wants to achieve with the new website version. This
purpose could be entirely different for the new foreign language website version than
for the source language website. Thus, it will influence the whole translation or
Bearing this in mind, we venture into a new definition of website localization
referring to the overall purpose the new language version should serve and thus define it
process of modifying a website for a specific locale according to the goals outlined
by the client
Building a multilingual website denotes a lot of work and nobody will do this for the
fun of it without having clear cut goals in mind. If we look at companies and
international organisations, the communicative intention of their website is closely
related to their international marketing strategy. The international marketing strategy
does not only decide on sales policies in foreign countries but also on image campaigns
and publicity. A website is just another medium to reach new foreign customers,
partners or people in general. International Marketing sets the overall goals of the new
website for a foreign market or, more in general for a foreign readership. It decides what
the new website stands for and what should be achieved with the new language version;
for example, corporate image, branding. Furthermore, an overall website publishing
strategy has to be set up. Does the website just serve publicity reasons? Does the
company want to sell products on the web (e-commerce)? What kind of products? Is the
website meant for customer interaction and customer support?
For an international company its international marketing goals can be put in
proportion to the choice of languages for its website. An empirical study conducted by a
Swedish researcher Theo Schewe (2001: 205) establishes a close link between the
marketing policy of a company and the choice of languages for its Web presence. The
study has come up with a classification of ‘web site language design strategies’ where
Schewe distinguishes three general types of websites: monolingual, bilingual and
multilingual websites. Within each type, the choice of languages reveals a certain type
of marketing strategy that stretches from the domestic marketing strategy with a
monolingual website in the ‘native’ language to the global player strategy with a central
website in English or the native language with independent local websites in other
Such global strategies determine the choice of languages and the design strategies.
As such they have a decisive influence on the translation strategy and the following can
Website localization is a function of the international marketing strategy
Every export oriented company and every international organisation have some kind of
international marketing strategy. Strategic decisions have to be taken on how to meet
commitments in another country or what should be expected from a foreign readership.
All this is vital information for the localizer/translator and he should not just be aware
of it, but insist explicitly on getting this information from the client with the translation
assignment. Christiane Nord uses the term translation brief referring to the basic
information and instructions as detailed by the client. The general guideline for a web
localization project should, thus, read as follows:
Localize/translate in a way that the aims of the client can be successfully
implemented with the new foreign-language website
The most important factor for an overall translation strategy is to establish the general
purpose of the new foreign-language website: What are the aims of the client? Why
does he want to set up a foreign language website? What does he have in mind with it?
The source text, the original website is just the point of departure for the localization
project, which must be checked against the predefined aims of the client.
Now, this focus on the communicative intent is nothing new for translators:
Functional approaches in translation studies have been saying this for a long time. There
were many discussions about the usefulness of the functional approach and the theory of
the Skopos. Most criticism focused on the fact that the Skopos theory is not suited for
all translational situations in the same way. For website localization, at least, it is
obviously of overall importance to take into account the function which „has to be
negotiated between the client and the translator“ (Nord 1997: 35). The target text, i.e.
the new foreign language website and its function are the primary focus. For the success
of a localisation project the predefined objectives of the company for the new website
must be met. Any correspondence whatsoever with the source text is of minor
For the localisation to be successful the aims of the client and the purpose of the
new website have to be explicitly documented in a translation brief at the very
beginning of the localization project. There must be a meeting with the client and with
the people within the client's organization or company who are responsible for the
purpose of the new website, that is the management or the marketing people, but not the
IT experts who are solely responsible for the practical implementation of the website. A
few steps in this direction are already implemented in the DIN standard 2345 for
translation assignments. The clearer the assignment, the easier is the quality check after
completion of the localization process.
A functional approach in translation puts the communicative intention to the
foreground. For a website the communicative intention is specified by the company or
the organisation represented by the website, not so much by the real web author who
does the practical job of setting up the website, in most cases an IT expert. The relation
between the owner of a website and the web author could pose some problems on the
monolingual level which of course can be avoided or at least weakened when the
intended purpose of the website is made explicit. On the multilingual level this becomes
a necessity as the purpose determines the translation and localization strategy.
Therefore, a close cooperation between different experts will be necessary: the
management defines global aims, international marketing experts refine these aims and
state a global purpose for each market and the respective foreign language website, web
authors set up a website, and the localizer adapts it taking into account the given
purpose for local markets.
In a best case scenario the client already has such a strategy in place, but in
practice many companies and many more international organisations lack a global,
consciously chosen strategy for a multilingual web presence. In many cases the website
has evolved gradually and slowly with the company or organisation, and a de facto
situation has been created. Hence, the expert advice of a serious service provider is very
important. Regarding the websites of international companies, Rose Lockwood (2000:
15) has identified three main strategies for the management of multilingual and
multicultural content. In contrast to the overall marketing policies which determine the
choice of languages in company websites, these are de facto strategies employed in
organising a global website. Lockwood distinguishes three different approaches
(Lockwood 2000: 15):
1. The monarchist approach with central control over the content where content is
translated but seldom adapted. The result is a website which is not sensitive to
2. The anarchist approach with multiple local sites without coordination, each
using a different design. In this case there will be high costs and no corporate
3. The federalist or subsidiary approach which is a compromise between the first
two as it integrates global, regional and local content (GRL). Global content is
produced centrally, translated and used internationally; regional content is also
translated and used in a regional context whereas local content will be produced
locally in the local language without the need for translation.
In the first case, the monarchist approach, translation is prominent: The whole website
is translated. The methodology implemented is the translation of web pages, an
approach which is in line with traditional translation strategies - with the only exception
that hypertext pages (HTML) must be translated. This however, involves a few
technical questions regarding the characteristics of HTML-documents that have been
mentioned before, but there would be no special change in translation strategy. This
approach is typical for bilingual territories and centralised international organisations.
The anarchist approach seldom involves any translation as the whole content is
produced independently and locally. It is only in the federalist or subsidiary approach
that localization becomes relevant as global and regional content must be
adapted/localized/translated for use in different countries. Whatever the approach of the
company may be, the most important aspect of translation as a service provider is to
integrate itself as much as possible into the information and publishing cycle of the
company or organisation. One way of achieving this is by clearly defining the purpose
in the translation assignment, another way could be by discussing general strategies
with the client.
4. Business aspects
However, the economic aspect is the most important for the client. It is here where
technology comes in and translation technology has indeed a lot to offer. It must be
stressed, though, that translation technology profits from long term planning and long
term investment. A terminology data base, a translation memory are tools that must be
serviced over a long period of time to become really useful resources. The same holds
true for a content management system with standardized paragraphs of text and the
newer global content management systems with multilingual support incorporating
terminology and translation memories.
On the one hand we can see a convergence of content management, web
publishing, print publishing and database publishing, where documents will be split up
into knowledge items or small chunks of text which can be reused for different purposes
like in manuals, on line help texts, customer support files, websites, etc. On the other
hand there is a convergence of translation and multilingual web publishing in the sense
that translation will be integrated into multilingual web publishing. Consequently,
translators won't need to interfere with HTML or XML or whichever mark-up language,
instead the software will do the job. As content management, terminology databases and
translation memory systems integrate into global content management systems (GCMS
or GMS); translators will deal with just one software environment.
Localization and translation cost money. This is evident, but it is much less
evident that it costs more money if it is done independent from all other authoring and
publishing activities, and that it costs less money if it is integrated into information and
publishing cycles, if multilingual support in general is planned from the beginning on a
long term basis, and if multilingual tools are set up within the company or organisation.
Translation as a cost factor has been discussed within the transaction cost model by
Pym (1995 and later): it states the fact that the mutual benefits for the communication
partners must be higher than the costs of translation, otherwise there would be no more
translation assignment. Translators should be well advised not to leave such economic
reasoning exclusively to the client, because not always is the client well informed about
costs and benefits of translation or localization projects. By drawing the clients attention
to this aspect and by giving him good advice, the translator/localizer may establish a
good basis for a medium to long term relationship opening the client's eyes to his role in
successful multilingual communication.
The application of the Return on Investment model (ROI) on web localization
could be of great help. The ROI model describes the relation between the investment
put into multilingualism and the resulting benefits for the company or organisation such
as the opening of a new market, savings in customer support or an increase in e-
commerce revenues, and so on. The client needs to get the corresponding economic
figures from his own company, but unfortunately not always is he aware of them. With
the help of a short list of questions the client could be made aware of possible costs and
Does the new market need your products/services?
Can they afford your products?
How can consumers pay?
Market growth rate and revenue potential? (GDP, GDP-growth rates)
Internet usage – digital divide
Customer and product support? (staff resources)
Cost of website localization?
Cost of website maintenance?
Compatibility of computer systems?
Any legal or regulatory issues?
These questions should always be discussed in a meeting at the very beginning of a
localization project. Although most of these questions are of a purely economic nature,
and the client, the company or the organisation, has to find the answers with the help of
his staff, sales and marketing people, as well as his financial advisers, it is nonetheless
the responsibility of a good service provider to underline their importance as a sound
basis for the success of the project. In the end the success of a foreign language website
- and consequently of the whole localization effort - will be measured by these
standards. The localizer has to present himself to the client as a provider of solutions
who helps the company achieve its aims and not just as an outsider who costs a lot of
money and causes a lot of problems.
In order to achieve this, traditional training models and curricula must be adapted
to cater for a new image of the localization expert. Defining training requirements in the
light of recognised professional practice models would also require in addition to the
obvious localization courses the integration of the following skills:
•Basic knowledge of international marketing
•Business models of localization and multilingual information management
•Strong emphasis on translation technology (terminology management,
translation memory, and content management) as website localization could be a
technical challenge for translators when they do not have thorough training
Website localization poses some new challenges to translators and translation studies. It
resembles a perfect example for a functional approach to translation where the function
is closely related to economic and business strategies, hence the overall importance and
impact of international marketing on foreign language website creation and
consequently on website localization. Translators and localizers have to address these
requirements in their work, hence the absolute necessity of explicit translation or
localisation assignments, as well as the need to take into account business models for
localization to assure a positive outcome.
Localization has evolved in the last 15 years to an important industry with a few
global players, whereas translation still remains in many aspects a fragmented field of
free-lancers. However, the big advantage that translation has, is a wide area of academic
research, something that localization still lacks, at least at this point in time. So, a
convergence between translation studies and localization would be beneficial, or in
other words, translation studies must take into account localization issues, or else a new
academic field of localization studies will emerge, independent from translation, which
will then compete with translation for ever diminishing funding. Website localization,
therefore, constitutes a new dimension for translation studies and translators training, as
well as a challenge for a renewed research agenda.
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