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Updated on May 14, 2018.

Translating a website to spanish

As of 2018, there are approximately 54 million Hispanics in the US holding nearly $1.5 trillion in purchasing power. As the US Hispanic population and purchasing power grows, it has become increasingly important for companies in many industries to translate their websites into Spanish. At face value this seems like a very simple proposition. However, it quickly becomes apparent that there are several ways to go about translating content. Which is best? This is a difficult question to answer. There are two basic methods of translating a page, using software or by hiring someone and there are instances where either method is superior.

In this article, we provide a description of each method of translating a website to Spanish for you to consider when you’re faced with the tough decision of how to communicate with your Spanish seeking audience.  We listed the time it would take as well as an approximate cost for a typical 10 page website.

Option 1 – Machine Translation

Time: 15 minutes
Cost: Free

Machine translations, such as Google Translate are increasing in popularity as they have continuously improved in accuracy.  Google, for example, uses statistical machine translation which uses an evolutionary method for translation by drawing on a large database of existing accurate translations.  Many companies use machine translation when they know they have only a small Spanish seeking audience, and when the cost of professional translation outweighs the potential benefit.  Add to that that the implementation of Google Translate is quick and painless.  All that is required is adding a few lines of code to your site and you will have a complete Spanish version (as well as other languages).

So what are the drawbacks of using machine translation?  Most students will tell you that using Google Translate to finish one’s Spanish assignments often causes contextual issues and sometimes translates text in a comically literal and incorrect way.  While great in many instances, machine translation is still not (and may never be) perfect.  If your content needs to be close, but not bulletproof then Google Translate is a good option for you.

Option 2 – Straight Translation

Time: 1 Week
Cost: $2,500.00

Do you know how many words there are for the word “car” in Spanish?  About a dozen.  And do you know which of these dozen words are best when communicating with Mexicans, but don’t mean anything at all to Argentineans?   Probably not.  And this is precisely why a translation firm is necessary to provide accurate translations that will be relevant to your diverse Spanish readers.

Hiring a professional is a more expensive and time-consuming option.  There are many firms and freelancers today that can produce translations for your entire website.  Additionally, if precise translations are critical, then you may look for the hired firm to hold certain accreditations specific to your industry.  “Many translating firms hold accreditations,” states Brandi Young-Sharp of Advanced Language Access, Inc. “These accreditations come from associations such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters &  Translators and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care Organizations.”

Option 3 – Transcreation

Time: 2 Weeks
Cost: $3,500.00

So what about brands that appeal to a general American market crowd by sponsoring a traditionally American activity such as football, but that want to engage with Hispanics through an activity more popular with Hispanics such as soccer?  How does a brand hire a company to not just translate their content but adapt it to a Hispanic audience?  This is what is known as transcreation.  Transcreation is used when simply translating content is not adequate.  Transcreation requires reviewing English content and rewriting it to make sense for a Spanish reader.  A good team will take the time to fully understand the English campaign before producing an equally engaging campaign for the Spanish speaking audience.

When considering transcreation, a brand also must take into account how dynamic their content is to be.  If the pages are going to be updated weekly or daily, transcreation is a far more expensive option than straight translation.  “Many marketers view transcreation as the first step into considering localization,” adds Ms. Young-Sharp.

Option 4 – User Translation

Time: 1-3 Months
Cost: $5,000.00 minimum for programming

User Translation may well be the most accurate method, with the significant drawback that it is very hard to actually implement. Websites like Facebook and Wikipedia have their users translate their content. Users can edit translated content and vote on translations in order to create the best content in a new language. Not only does this potentially lead to the most correct overall content, it is also free to the website as the users providing translations are typically unpaid.

But don’t get too excited yet thinking users are going to flock to translate your Pre-paid Legal website into Samoan. This type of exchange is tricky to achieve. This method of translation assumes that users have interest in creating translated content for the site with minimal or no compensation. While this is possible for some well known and respected websites, it is the exception.  Here, is an example where the web application Wibiya allows users to translate Wibiya’s content to other languages.

While in theory, this method is “free” as users themselves volunteer to translate the content from one language to the other, it can actually be quite costly.  Creating the application to allow users to translate your content will cost you the money as will creating the incentives to convince users to take the time to do this.  This method is really only a viable option for well-known brands, organizations, and applications such as those previously mentioned.

The Best Solution?

There is no easy answer to how best to provide a Spanish version of your website.  It really depends on the content you have, how dynamic it is, and what are the expectations of the Spanish seeking audience.  Machine translation can be used if the message is less critical, for a small audience, or if only a temporary solution.  However, when the message is critical, a transcreation is more likely to get the precise message across to the Hispanic market.

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Join the discussion 24 Comments

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  • Ana says:

    No serious company should ever use Google translator for their website content or they should simply not consider making business to Spanish-speaking countries.

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  • diaz says:

    @Ana – I think it really depends on what the content is to be translated and how big the potential customer base in Spanish is. Your right in that larger companies can easily justify the expense of a translator service. But for small companies with budget concerns that want a solution to offer their products to a wider audience – Google Translate is a workable solution.

  • Alfonso says:

    Nice article – thanks for sharing.

    @diaz – you make a good point – however an affordable solution does exist for small businesses. http://www.yasabe.com includes a human website translation service for small and medium sized local businesses. Its actually included for free with many of the basic online advertising packages.

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  • Chris C says:

    Great breakdown you’ve got here. What about software like Syntrasoft or Language Weaver? I know there is a price for the licence but you are given the ability to make edits and create dictionaries/libraries, etc. Any idea what these tend to cost using your 10-page scenario? Or better yet, for a large e-commerce website with roughly 100K urls?

    • Eric Diaz says:

      Good question Chris. I am actually unaware of this software and also do not know the costs to be able to compare them apples to apples. If you do hear of any costs associated with these tools, please add them as they will definitely add to the article. Thanks for reading – Eric

  • Buc17 says:

    Eric, what about having the copy machine- translated in order to avoid a large fee for a small non-profit, then having the client, who is latino, but doesn’t have the time to re-write the website in spanish, go through and make appropriate idiomatic and grammatical corrections.

    • eric diaz says:

      Many companies do something similar to this and experience results. Main thing to consider here is that while your client is Latino, do they write well in Spanish? Even if they know written Spanish very well, they are not necessarily a copywriter who knows how to write interesting copy.

  • Buc17 says:

    Hey DK! I’m looking at your photo at the ballgame in AZ and thinkin’ that jersey looks a lot like Cubbie blue with the tip of the Cub logo appearing in the cropped pic. We’re up here in snowy Michigan, just 175 miles up about around the fresh-water pond from Chi-town and we’re very jealous, especially since I am a diehard Cub fan.

  • Website translation these days has become an important step for business owners to step up their game, to expand the business apart from the native language. Tips are really good (y)

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