Lost in translation

Written on 25 August, 2009 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories MarketingWeb Design & ContentTags content

There is no doubt that English is the universal language of the web. Although English is only the second most spoken language, the web is designed and dominated by it. This means that non-English speaking businesses have the added challenge of translation if they want to tap into a world market, rather than a local one.

But if a business, or a budding online entrepreneur, has taken the decision to target the English-speaking market, how successfully do they manage it? Today, I received the following email at work.

To netregistry.com.au,

It is to bring this in your kind information that we are having an awesome web site with us (link removed to protect the stupid) with Google Pr 4 and top ranking on Google and to advicing to be a very good fit for your visitors and also it increase to your Customer. As you are already knowing that Quality back link is must needed.

Now days we are making Few Sponsor link partner, and publishing their website link/Logo on our home page. We are having successfully added two big members like (links removed to protect the stupid), you can see it at our website footer and we deciding to add only few memberships. The cost we charge for giving links on our home page/footer link is $250 for a year, and also your linking will be showing on our every inner page, that mean your link will publish on our entire website. AND imagine the cost…….NOT MORE THAN ONE CUPS OF COFFEEE A DAY …! If you are interested than send your link details which are to be added. In case of any other details, contact us at: (link removed to protect the stupid)

Thanks with Regards,

Yes, these sorts of emails are common, but poorly written copy appears across the web; in newsletters, on websites etc. Every day I am swamped by poorly translated and terribly written pieces of copy that somehow seek to entice me to part with cash. Why would I trust someone who can't even bother to check their communication makes sense or hire someone fluent in the language?

Translation software has made some businesses lazy when it comes to international marketing. No computer program will ever adequately translate words with the same style and relevance as a human linguist.

The poor offer in the above email aside (link selling has been debunked as a legitimate SEO technique for years), someone made a decision that the copy in that email was acceptable to send to English speaking businesses - people who need to be persuaded and are often highly discerning.

But even for those of us who have English as a first language, writing effective copy can sometimes be inadvisable. I regularly proofread emails and marketing communications from other staff members and other businesses to polish language and improve grammar - most often because they are aware of their own limitations. You may be a brilliant business mind, but that doesn't necessarily mean you always know where to put the apostrophe or how to avoid a cliched metaphor. It is far too common a belief that being able to communicate in English automatically qualifies a person to be a writer capable of doing what others charge hundreds of dollars for. Being able to drive a car doesn't mean you should attempt to repair the engine.

Do you have anyone read and provide feedback on your marketing copy before you put it live on a website or in an email? Are you necessarily the best person in the office to write the webpage copy?

Even the best of us need to have our writing reviewed by others. It is amazing how often we are blind to our own mistakes and it takes a fresh eye to spot the embarrassing gaff.

All writing intended to be read by others should be treated with care. Poor communication can lose sales, damage the brand and confuse customers.

Okay, now I need someone to read over this for me...