Why website translation differs from document translation

Website and document translationTranslation of websites requires different skills than translation of a document in any format. It has many distinctive features that have to be taken into account in order to approach an online text in an appropriate way.


The use of hypertext and HTML is the main difference between  document and website translation and the main characteristics of the web genres. It creates a different type of reading which is defined by the user, a so called “self-selective mode” with constant shift between reading and navigating. Users, web developers and localisers all approach a hypertext in a non-linear way, which is however different for every group. Localisers usually receive segments organised according to programming criteria, rather than communicative criteria. Thus, to translate a text with such a structure, you’ll have to bear in mind the potential interactive reading mode of the end user as a part of the context.

Dynamism and openness

Hypertext is dynamic and open, which means that it never constitutes a finished piece. New content is added and modified very often in contrast to a printed text. As a result, translators often have to work with updates rather than localising             a complete website from scratch. To assure coherence of such translation it is very important to relate to the previous translations of the same website and to research the context carefully.

Translatable and non-translatable strings

The use of HTML or other technical codes reveals another feature of website translation: the occurrence of both translatable and non-translatable strings. To properly translate and localise a website, you’ll have to understand the code characteristics first. This helps to differentiate between the content that has to be translated and the content that can’t be changed, and to recognise what will be the final visual and functional effect of the text between the codes. As websites are usually translated in CAT-tools that e.g. enable a preview of the localised content, website translators have to be proficient in one or more of these tools. Thus, website translation compared to document translation entails a thorough knowledge of computer science and technical skills.


Finally, web pages are characterised by complexity in terms of multiple functions and genres: one single website may include several text genres and types, several functions and communicative purposes. For example, within a single page you can find elements of different nature, such as marketing (e.g. ads), information (e.g. the “About us” section) or navigation (e.g. menu buttons). A website translator has to be aware of this complexity and multifunctionality while choosing a translation and localisation strategy. All in all, the main principle of successful websites is to make users stay one the page as long as possible and encourage them to come back. This in turn requires an approach which differs from the approach needed for document translation, as localised websites have to meet this requirement as well.

If you want to learn more about website localisation, check out this website localisation course at Udemy.

 (Photo by D. Pawlak)

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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.

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