Language focus | 11.03.2010

Getting it write – making the most of your translation spend

Creative writing is not something that comes easy to most people. If it did, let’s face it, we’d all be best-selling authors, living off million dollar royalty payments! Nevertheless, writing copy that accurately conveys what you and your company stand for and, more importantly, reflects the image you want to project to the world is key to the success of any translation project.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that products which include properly translated material achieve better sales than those that don’t but often this documentation is given a low priority and ”cobbled together” at the last moment.

Authoring tools exist for larger volume projects but by following a few simple rules you too can bring benefits without any extra expense. It’s not complicated, but following these 5 steps can significantly improve the quality of the end translations AND bring financial benefits.

1. Does it actually need to be translated?

The first thing we would advise is that you review your source documentation to ensure that you actually need all the text translating – it sounds obvious, but it can save you time and money to simply focus on the key aspects.

Just because your English language brochure is 12 pages long, it doesn’t mean that foreign language versions have to be the same. We recommend that you only translate the relevant sections of existing documents, or produce shorter documents in your own language and have these translated.

2. Is this the final version?

Experience tells us that when project timescales are set, time required for the translation process is normally underestimated, or sometimes forgotten altogether.

It can seem like a great idea to get the ball rolling as soon as you have something down on paper but, in actual fact, sending a non-approved draft version of your copy out for translation can become more time-consuming and therefore more expensive.

Constant re-writes can lead to confusion and opportunity for error on both sides so it’s essential to clearly highlight any changes you need to make. Sometimes, if the changes are extensive, renaming the file with a version number can help avoid any mistakes.

We appreciate that sometimes there really aren’t enough hours in the day, and with deadlines looming, emergency strategies have to be found. Using the latest Translation Memory Software, we can arrange a team of translators, often located throughout the world, to work together on your project while still ensuring the quality of product and consistency of terminology that you would expect.

3. Is your message clear and coherent?

Essentially: “DOES IT MAKE SENSE?”!

When writing marketing copy there is often a tendency to fudge and over-complicate the message with flowery language so it’s useful to check that what you are asking us to translate is clear and coherent, to ensure that the final translation also reads well.

After all, if the original English is low quality, the chances are that the translated version won’t read as well as it should either.

You need to be sure what you wish to achieve with the document, who your target audience is and what format the final document will take. This is all essential information to be passed to the translator at the outset.

If you need assistance, we have a database of authors experienced in the use of controlled languages such as Simplified English, thus ensuring consistency of terminology and elimination of possible ambiguity.

4. Is there too much “Business Speak”?

It seems like every week we hear Business Speak anecdotes in the press such as the Business Bingo game available on the BBC website

Lingo, jargon, argot, whatever you want to call it, it is understood that people throw these phrases into conversation because they think it makes them sound knowledgeable about subjects. In actual fact, it normally means the opposite! Sloppy clichés, impenetrable jargon and meaningless verbal litter simply clutter and obstruct clear communication and hide superficial thinking.

In short, business lingo often involves many words being used to say absolutely nothing. Imagine trying to translate that!

5. Is it a “local” or “international” document?

Finally, we would advise you to be cautious with country specific references (a common theme with marketing material) as there is a good chance that these won’t translate well: using a pun in your literature might work wonders in your source language but chances are it won’t in the target one! It’s especially important to be wary of references to parts of the body as this can be viewed negatively in some parts of the world.

This process, known as internationalisation, will ensure the actual content of your literature is as effective as possible.

English grammar follows many complicated rules and occasionally we all have problems deciding whether to use there or their, or if it should be “s apostrophe” or “apostrophe s”, but writing copy for translation is about more than simply understanding grammar rules.

Consistent use of corporate terminology in all documents associated with your brand makes it not only cheaper but easier to translate clearly and thus control your corporate image overseas. To assist the translator, corporate glossaries, reference materials, and previous approved translations should all be provided and you should be open to queries and requests for clarification.

The ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting), of which The Translation People are Corporate Members, publishes a guide to help Translation Buyers. They discuss issues such as what costs to expect and how long to schedule for the process, but one of the main things they underline is the importance of getting your original copy right before you even approach the translator.


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