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  • Writer's pictureAmy Numbers

Avoid getting lost in translation

Our multicultural society often requires marketing materials or websites to be available in multiple languages. Producing content in several languages may help attract clients who don’t speak English as their primary language by identifying with these potential customers and literally “speaking their language.” To that end, today’s global economy means companies are doing business all over the world. A company or brand must be able adapt in order to drive growth and expand, and to do so must be able to reach customers in a language they can both understand and relate.

When Translation is a ‘No Go’

Global marketplace discussions often reference the famous story of how the Chevy Nova failed in Latin America. The vehicle allegedly did not do well in that geographic region because “no va” means “no go” in Spanish. This story was later debunked as false (General Motors was actually aware of the direct translation, and felt that it was not an issue), but nonetheless, it remains as a good example of how key messages can be lost in translation.

One common approach is using the translate function in Google or other software tools that produce translated material by simply typing in phrases. However, these tools aren’t perfect. Although Google Translate has a role – it can provide a very rough and overall sense – it doesn’t understand or distinguish certain phrases, which is important when targeting specific markets. This can affect the quality of the translated material. The concrete market itself is a niche market. That means translating concrete terminology is even more specific. You want make sure the translation is right, presenting the correct message to customers, and not lost in translation. Ensuring proper linguistic screening is important to global branding. Not only is it important to protect a company against unintended vulgarity or an inappropriate connotation, but also against downright nonsensical translation.

In a recent presentation, Getting Translation Right: Ten Way to Make Your Translation Projects More Efficient, Smartling, a New York-based translation company, described the how’s and why’s of effective translations. The presentation stressed that translations can end up being both funny and embarrassing if they are not correct. And, in this age of social media, it is important to remember that if there is an incorrect translation, there is a good chance that a screenshot will be taken and it will get posted online and to social media. These nine tips from Smartling will help you with translating your company’s information. It’s important to know what to ask for from a translation agency to help ensure that the translated terminology will make sense and what to avoid.

1. Don’t ask bilingual staff or family to translate just because they are native speakers. Just because “Uncle Fred” or employee “Sally” speaks German, doesn’t mean either of them should handle the translation for the company website or marketing documents. Simply knowing the language isn’t enough. The person doing the translation also must thoroughly understand the nuances of translation. While it might seem like a good idea, professional translators have learned a lot about translation and how to do it. Translation is a learned skill. However, there are several other ways bilingual staff can assist other than performing the actual translation, such as the creation of style guides for each language, defining terminology and help with reviewing the translations.

2. Determine the target market. Who do you want to reach? Expanding the number of languages into which the content is translated will connect a company and its brand to more customers worldwide, which helps increase its presence. There is no need to localize or translate a website or marketing materials into languages where there isn’t a target audience. Instead, it makes more sense instead to figure out where most of your traffic comes from, noted App translation company Localize. These stats can be accomplished with Tools such as Google Analytics or Alexa.

3. Localize content for culture/geographic location. There are not always word-for-word translations. Even when there are, there may be subtle differences in dialects or even use of slang. If a section of your site, or if a specific product or service only applies to a home market, then it should not be included in the translation, recommends One Hour Translation, a web-based professional translation agency. This will streamline delivery as well as minimize confusion or administrative headaches. However, localizing the content is more than just translating the words. This also means making sure the images reflect the area and ensuring that links, headers and titles don’t break when switching to a different language. It is also important that no matter where the company is based, the brand should appear to all customers as if it is just down the street. The customer experience should be native to the individual on every level. Being fluent in every language helps deliver the best customer experience and ensures that the content created resonates with as many markets and consumers as possible, at all times. This not only means a command of local dialects and regional idiosyncrasies, but observing cultural appropriateness and sensitivity as well as having a “detailed awareness” of the variables across global markets – such as currents and customs. Taking this approach avoids alienating customers with messages initially developed for elsewhere. Otherwise, it could send the message to customers of another language that they are secondary in importance to English speakers.

4. Let translators work in context. Visual translation interface is a key to saving time and money. Allow translators and reviewers to see what is being translated in the way end users will view it. When referring to English content, using one word that has different meanings often occurs. Take the word “home,” for example. The word home is used for a place to live. Home is also used for a home page on a website. In English, it’s the same word. If a translator is given the word “home” on a spreadsheet without any other information, he or she won’t know how to translate it. It might be translated as a residence – a place to live – instead of a home page on a website. It is necessary to see where it’s going to go on a website or a brochure to help the translator understand how and where it will be used. Translators want to see exactly how the content will be presented to the customer.

5. Do not use spreadsheets and e-mail to manage translation and establish workflow. There is technology available to help with the translation process – whether they are the basic tools the translators use or tools that can help with the whole end-to-end process. Instead of using a spreadsheet to manage translation, a cloud-based technology may be used to help with the process. As long everyone on the translation team has a web browser, it enables them to work off of one place, making the process more efficient without having to obtain software licenses. Traditionally, companies have employed a localization manager to act as a means of communication between content teams and translation agencies. Ideally, this person would be able to lead the charge in getting global content strategies aligned company-wide.

6. Establish a workflow. Several issues must be considered when developing an efficient and effective workflow. Will your business use multiple translation resources? Does some content require additional review before approval and delivery? Are there internal or in-country reviewers for certain languages? A suggested method is to establish the flow, document it, and take a look at where the inefficiencies appear. For example, in-country reviews can sometimes be a bottleneck. Make sure that the reviewers on both ends of the process have the time to do it when integrating it into your workflow.

7. Use translation memory during the translation process. “Translation memory” can leverage and reuse sentences that have already been used to help improve translation quality and keep costs down. It can provide exact matches, such as a tagline for a website, for sentences that are reused with the same style, voice and terminology. The translators know it’s exactly the same so they don’t have to translate that same word or sentence again. It functions as a database of sentences that have already been translated and approved. They are stored and next time a translation job is worked on, the translator can leverage and reuse sentences and words that have already been translated, approved and paid for. Translation memory also helps with phrases that are similar but not exactly the same. For example, in one instance, a sentence may be, “The coat is blue.” The next time it could be, “The coat is green.” Use of translation memory, provides the translator with a match so he or she is just able to substitute blue for green. When using the in a brochure or on a website, it should translated exactly the same. By already having this match, the translator can just substitute the color and make it a perfect translation, improving quality and consistency. This also means less work and is more cost effective than translating the sentence or word over and over again. When using translation memory for website and marketing material translation, it’s also important to ensure that it remains your intellectual property. The translation is paid for and should be part of the deliverable.

8. Review content early and often. Identify and review a sample piece of content to help you spot potential problems early on. By pinpointing early on the terminology that will be key to your business and getting that terminology translated for the crucial markets, will help provide consistent, top-quality translation. It will also streamline the translation localization process. A terminology analyst discovered that popcorn can be translated into Spanish in more than 50 different ways and “data sheet” can be translated into Russian correctly in 24 different ways. If a company is translating multiple types of content to Russian and discussing data sheets, ensure that every time your company translates the word “data sheet,” it is using the same Russian word. This is where terminology management comes in. Review your source content, review your terminology and then review your translation.

9. Establish a plan for maintenance and future content updates. Once translation of a website or marketing materials is complete, the content must be maintained. This takes time and could potentially be more complicated. A company needs to factor in maintenance and upgrades to its ability to handle these concerns. Consider the frequency of changes and updates as well as how to address this for global markets. This includes developing a plan on how to decide when another language becomes a priority and how easy will it be to add another language – or even 10 more languages. Smartling recommends starting to grow the market when significant revenue can be added. Sustainable businesses are based on profit and revenue. The Arancho Doc Group, a provider of translation and localization services, noted that if a company’s growth rate is becoming stagnant in a local market, targeting foreign markets where the product or service is a good fit can help to continue to grow a business. However, it’s important to remain efficient and accurate. Reaching the market in many languages can be costly. Through efficient planning, more customers can be reached while staying within a budget. It is important to quickly bring information to a variety of markets, but quality is even more important. Remember, grammar errors and terminology confusion are non-negotiable.

Translation vs. Transcreation: What’s the difference?

Translation is the transformation of information from one language to another. Transcreation is taking the concept or information and really making it relevant for a particular market.

When thinking about the U.S. market, a message may be very much geared toward a particular market and may use slang or idioms that are only used in the United States. As noted in a recent presentation, Getting Translation Right: Ten Way to Make Your Translation Projects More Efficient, sometimes when information is translated into a different market, the translation just may not make any sense. Even if the content is relevant, it is being expressed in a way that just doesn’t mean anything to a target market. The translators instead need to ‘transcreate’ or really recreate that particular marketing message to make it relevant to that language, culture and country. Translators take the concept, recreate it and make it meaningful for target market because the messaging that was written for one target segment or audience will not resonate with a completely different group. Basically, with transcreation, the result is a brand new messaging that is targeted and localized, while with translation, the result is new words in another language, but with the same messaging. A typical example is talking about a ‘home run’ in the United States. Although a home run and its relationship to baseball is pretty much understood throughout the United States, it won’t make any sense when converting this into French. The best practice in translation is to write the marketing or website copy in a way that is idiom free. Sometimes, when trying to make an impact on a certain market, idioms are the right way to go to have an effect. In that situation, keep your idioms centralized on the market you are trying to reach.

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