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Localizing in translating the website content

The reference group translators occasionally modify the contents of the texts they translate, but this is not done as routinely as adjusting the order of elements or the style and level of details. Among the clearest examples of localisation was the news item of 17 February 2009 on RegioStars award winners, where translators of several languages included a sentence or two in their language whenever a project from the respective country had won a prize. It appeared that the translators had specially asked DG REGIO whether they could do this.

To see how this kind of localisation takes place, a selection of European Commission homepage news (News items published on 15.5.2008, 11.11.2008, 2.1.2009, 6.2.2009, 20.2.2009, 2.3.2009, 5.3.2009, 24.3.2009, 31.3.2009, 1.4.2009, 2.4.2009, 6.4.2009, 16.4.2009 and 22.6.2009)

were compared in their German, English, Spanish, French, Maltese, Dutch, Polish, Rumanian, Slovene, Finnish and Swedish versions.

Some examples of modifications that were made in one or a few languages only:

  • In the Slovenian translation of a homepage news item reporting on cities that had participated in an environmental action, a sentence was added to mention that, in Slovenia, only Ljubljana had participated. The Finnish version mentioned cities located close to the readers of that language (Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm), but other versions were true to the short alphabetical city list of the original English version. (4 February 2009)
  • On the eve of the Green Week 2009, a news story about the “act and adapt” campaign was localised by the Swedish translator, who added a mention of the role the Swedish Minister for environment had played in the campaign, and by the Finnish translator, who mentioned a Finnish project on the shortlist of environmental projects competing for an award. (22 June 2009)
  • In a homepage news item about enlargement, the Polish translator had chosen to talk about the iron curtain (żelazna kurtyna) instead of the Cold War mentioned in the English original. She explained that the Cold War concept is not very widely used in Poland, whereas the iron curtain is an everyday expression. (20 February 2009)
  • In an article about the results of a survey on quality of life, the Finnish translator replaced the title Qualité de vie en Europe by Pohjoismaalaiset tyytyväisimpiä elämäänsä, “Northern Europeans are the most satisfied with their lives” (one of the results of the study, which however was not mentioned in the short original news item). (2 January 2009)

Lighter examples of localisation in homepage news are cases where a mention of the country concerned by the language is moved on top of the text or of a list. There does not seem to be a generalised policy for this. When comparing results for the different languages, it appears that some language teams (the Dutch, Finnish, Polish and Swedish in particular) tend to introduce changes more frequently than others, while the Maltese introduce virtually no changes (see p. 34 for table). The majority of these changes cannot be described as localisation, however, but rather as trediting. Another conclusion is that there is no significant difference in the number of modifications brought to news texts written translated from English and from French.

Cases of content-localising are less common than stylistic localisation. Explanations quoted include efforts to avoid creating confusion by treating readers unequally giving more details to the readers of a particular language; time pressure especially for the homepage news; and technical constraints. One translator also pointed out that readers may actually be more interested in, for example, knowing which European countries have the most severe drug problem than in the ranking of their own country.

Some of the translators suggested that they could provide links to national websites handling the same subject, as is done on the

Your Europe – Business website (http://ec.europa.eu/youreurope/business/index_en.htm), which has been created in cooperation with national administrations. This website is a concrete service for European businesses, who may feel lost when trying to find out how to proceed in another European country which usually publishes practical information in the national language(s) only.

It is clear that creating such a website about 27 countries’ laws, regulations and administrations in 23 languages, and keeping the information up to date, is such a huge effort that similar new projects should not be launched without careful consideration of resources, costs and benefits. However, linking Commission websites to national ones with only short introductory texts might be feasible in other policy areas, too, and keep the need for translations within acceptable limits.


DGT web translators reflect and debate a lot on the need and practices of localisation, and clearly have a profound understanding of how this should be done.

The much-appreciated freedom to adapt texts to match the target audiences – if these are to be understood as consisting in citizens of the European country or countries where the corresponding language is generally spoken, and with a high percentage of employees and students – is used to some degree, but differences between language versions are relatively small.

More information on the main target groups of different pages, as well as accurate statistics on the profile of visitors on particular websites would be very welcome in order to base the localisation effort on more concrete facts.

Finally, it has to be borne in mind that many readers of EUROPA may not actually be based in Europe: for instance the website on External relations (DG RELEX) is published in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese, for the benefit of counterparts on other continents.

“We have to remember that our text may be read at home or in the office, by young or old…”

© European Union

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