The Apple Watch: The ultimate travel device companion

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For English language speakers, there is often considerable amusement to be had from websites showing poor translations into other tongues, particularly when it involves pictographic writing of the kind used in countries like China and Japan. The consequences of errors in translation can be embarrassing, baffling or downright amusing, with some of them occasionally being extremely rude. One recent site included an image of a road sign in Beijing showing directions to ‘Racist Park’ and a cleaner’s sign telling people to stay out of a lift because there was an ‘execution in progress’. Others could not be repeated in print.

Losing things in translation may be funny, but not if it happens on your hotel website. Those who welcome international visitors will no doubt want to make as many services as possible accessible to all, and if people can read information and make bookings in their own language, they are sure to be more likely to do so, unless they are particularly fluent in English. Getting it right is, of course, vital. Errors made in translation might not always be the kind of things that go viral on the web and give someone a laugh, but they could mislead, confuse or offend, all of which will completely defeat the object of having them to start with.

Senior director of ecommerce at The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group Niklas Schlappkohl told Hotel News Now there are a number of steps hotels and chains can take to make sure they get it right when it comes to multi-language websites. One tip was to seek help to ensure the right tone of voice. Even if the words and phrases used are technically correct, Mr Schlappkohl said branding and marketing departments should be drafted in to ensure certain care is taken. One issue is that of subjective interpretation.

Regional offices and others will be able to advise whether, for instance, a phrase should be formal or informal. That said, the focus should be on the language only and not the country. This takes it as read that readers will be able to understand something in their language even if it contains variants from another country. The example he gave was between France and the Quebec region of Canada, but English-language speakers may consider the differences between the different terms and spellings used across the Anglosphere. Winston Churchill may have called Britain and America “two nations divided by a common language”, but Britons will be familiar enough with terminology like ‘gas’ instead of ‘petrol’ and using a z where an s might be used in the UK.

The translation itself should rely on a professional. This may mean paying more, but it will pay off in the end, as it will ensure accuracy. These experts will be particularly useful in the Middle East and China, two fast-emerging markets. To keep costs down, a translation memory device can help save costs, as it can change minor details such as the addition or removal of a particular hotel facility. Mr Schlappkohl said the focus should be on ensuring that English, Chinese and Spanish are available, since these are the three main languages of the web. However, it is worth considering if others are needed. For example, a hotel in Wales might want to offer Welsh language services, while German and French could be considered in places receiving a lot of visitors from those countries. He also advised that one thing everyone should avoid is mixing languages, with more than one on any particular page. Many readers will be familiar with such sites, which show only some English text while other information is in a different language. This is no good to a reader who cannot speak both languages, while even those who are multi-lingual may get confused. Therefore, it is wise to let people know what languages are available, which may not just be English and the reader’s mother tongue. An Italian, for instance, may understand another Romance language better than English if Italian is not available. Making sure the languages used are the ones most likely to be those of the readers is not a matter of pure guesswork.

Using web analytics tools, it is possible to learn more about customers and the languages they use. Indeed, data analysis can even extend to learning what languages people tend to use in their spare time in a multilingual country or region. Whichever languages there are, however, it is vital to take the necessary precautions to prevent the calamity of getting lost in translation. There are 2.8 billion internet users out there and the number is only going to grow. The reality is that any of them could potentially log on to your site, which may mean it is impossible to satisfy them all, but you can go a long way towards providing multilingual web pages many, if not most, will appreciate being able to use.