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Going global - from a translation perspective

Jef Verelst, Business Analyst, Xplanation Language Services - 17 Sep-13
Going global - from a translation perspective. What to consider when choosing an e-commerce platform.
The e-commerce platform market offers a wide range of e-commerce products, each having their own specifications and purposes. Choosing the e-commerce platform that best suits your requirements is a task which should not be underestimated. When choosing such a platform, localisation is an aspect often overlooked.

However, localisation is, or could become, extremely important when broadening your consumer base across different countries, each one using a different language. Studies show that consumers are twice as likely to buy a product online if the website is in their own language (source: Common Sense Advisorys study "Can't read, won't buy").

Having content in different languages

Import and export
The quality of a translation is important. If the quality is good, consumers will trust your website and your brand.

Maybe you want to have your text translated or revised by a third party (a native speaker, translation company), but you don't want to give them access to your platform? If so, it's important that you are able to export your text and have a translation or a revised version imported afterwards.

And, of course, you want to insert the translated text in the correct place. The export document type needs to be able to store variables which define the text. These variables will then allow the text to be imported in the correct place. One such document type that has a clear distinction between the text to be translated and the variables in the text is xml.

Gui (graphic user interface) of a translation service.

How translations are stored
An e-commerce platform can store the translation in many different ways (database, xml files, property files, html). While this is not something that should affect the e-commerce site, some storage mechanisms have limitations that you should bear in mind.

Adding languages
You may only want your site in two languages to start with, as those may be the only languages used by your target audience. But once you feel the need to expand, or there are consumers requesting another language, you need to make other languages available. The e-commerce platform therefore needs to be flexible enough to include more languages. It may be that adding a new language to your site is not supported, which is mostly the case when translations are stored in databases or directly in the html files.

Text length
When a text is translated, the number of characters between the source and target texts may differ. If the text is stored in databases, in particular, there may be length restrictions for certain types of text. If this is the case, the author must think about text expansion during the translation process (as a rule of thumb, German can be 20 percent longer than English, for example). The translators and revisers also need to be aware of any character restrictions when carrying out their work.

Translations not available in all languages
When someone within your organisation writes new content for the e-commerce platform, you probably want to have it published as soon as possible. It may be that you need to publish the new content before it has been translated into all the required languages. In that case, the e-commerce platform should not trigger any error messages on the platform and, if you so wish, should display the text in the available language.

Advisable approach for storage
One approach for storing languages which has proven flexible is having the display text stored in separate files (such as property files). These files contain a key and the display text.

Each file has one language which is defined by a code in the file name. Adding an extra language would mean having an extra file that contains the display texts for the new language.

The e-commerce platform must have a default language. If a key is not found for a certain language, the platform should revert to showing the text in the default language.

If a translation is missing the e-commerce platform should revert to showing the text in the default language.

Displaying translations
When displaying a page on an e-commerce platform, the layout may well look attractive in the platform's default language. However, when the site is viewed in another language, this may not always be the case.

Flexibility with character lengths
Translated text will most likely not have the same amount of characters as the source text. This needs to be taken into account when creating the layout of the platform. If the text in a component changes and turns out to be longer, the component should show scrollbars or the other components present on the page should flow in the required direction, depending on your preference.

Right to left text
Most western languages will always be supported by e-commerce platforms. However, think about markets where the language is read differently. For example, English reads from left to right, but if you translate the text into Arabic, it will be read from right to left. This needs to be supported, including the location of images and other components.

Special characters
Most languages have special characters defined for their languages, such as å, ü and ö. These special characters are not always supported due to the character encodings used. When a different character encoding is used for storing and displaying the text, the text will not display properly. It is therefore essential that the correct character encoding is chosen and that this is correctly defined in the platform. Utf-8 is the most supported and most common encoding for web pages and e-mails.

Macy's is a good example of translation gone really bad. Why is the welcome page only partially translated? And why the mix of upper- and lowercase letters? Not even the grammar is correct. The signal sent to the (in this case Swedish) customer is basically "we don't care about you".

Variables and references in text
When writing content, variables or references may be used. For example, when the text indicates how many products are still in stock, the amounts and the products will be references. The text used must fit all the values that the reference/variable can have.

An example
An e-commerce platform needs to display the number of shirts still in stock. A bad example would be:
We have <amount> <product name> still in stock.
If the amount is "4" and the product is "shirt", this would result in:
We have 4 shirt still in stock.

Having this structure already causes problems when the amounts differ. When this text is then translated it will only cause more headaches when entering different products and amounts.

As a result, it is better to present such a text in a summary instead of full sentences, such as:
Product: <product name>
Amount in stock: <amount>
This way, the text will always fit and it will make the translators' lives much easier.

Jef Verelst

Business Analyst, Xplanation Language Services

Business Analyst at Xplanation Language Services.

Jef is a former software developer within Xplanation who now works as the company's Business Analyst. Jef has in-depth knowledge of connecting CMS and other workflow systems with translation systems and provides consultancy for among other things:
* Best practices on how customers should structure their XML format to best facilitate the translation process;
* Best practices for software localization and how to structure software strings that contain variables.

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