How to translate websites. Episode 3: Character restrictions

Once you know how to deal with non-standard error messages and button names, it’s time to have a look at character restrictions. They may reduce your possibilities and push your creativity to the limit, but that’s what makes them special and loveable. Let’s see how you can make your life easier when translating a website with limited text fields.

Why restrictions?

A great website design is flawless and visually attractive. Usually graphics take precedence over text, so any button names, menu items and commands will have to fit within the specific area. Since languages vary in length, it may be difficult to predict how much space will be needed for the new website version. As a rule of thumb it’s often assumed that texts translated from English to German are about 30% longer. For Polish this figure would be about 20-30%, but for Hindi even up to 80%. While it might be easy to provide enough space if the website is localised into 2 or 3 languages, the situation gets complicated when the same website covers multiple languages with different length. In this case translation will have to be adjusted to the original layout to avoid time-consuming redesign. And that’s where the character restrictions step in.

character limitations

Exceeded character limit is not the only bug on this website

Rephrase it and review it

How to go about these limitations? For certain language combinations it might be difficult or even impossible to fit the text within the restricted space. One way to solve it is to shorten the text, so that it includes only the most important information. But what if the restricted character count applies to single words, such as button names or menu items and there’s no way to place your translation in the tiny field? You could abbreviate the word and risk to confuse the website users. But what you really want to do here, is to rephrase the uncanny term and search for any other word that expresses the same or similar idea. For example, the English button name “On“ might be too long when translated to Polish as “Włącz”. The same happens when the menu item “Job offers” will be replaced by German “Stellenangebote”. In the first case you can rephrase ”On” with “Yes” to get a 3 letter word (“Tak”) and in the second case the long term could be translated as “Jobs” or “Karriere”.

Fighting with character restrictions can take a long time and drain your energy. To avoid it, this “3 Rs” rule may come in handy: rephrase, review and remember to be careful with abbreviations. No text will be too difficult to fit into the limited space, once you bear in mind that user friendliness is the key to success. Slight changes in meaning are fine, as long as the website visitors get a clear idea of how the item, command or button really works.

 Do you want to learn more how to translate and localise websites? Check out my online course How to translate and localise websites!


Translate and localize websites like a pro

Dorota helps digital brands infuse their content with a local touch. She is a localization consultant, translator specialized in IT, prompt engineer, and a book author. Dorota teaches online courses on localization, writes for her blog and a Medium publication. She also runs a Small Biz AI, a Substack newsletter for freelancers and small business owners ready to discover handy AI tools.

Leave a comment