Translations: Get them right from the start
(c) 2013 by Lucy Brooks, FCIL, MITI
How to avoid disasters like these…
“This cat food does not contain conservatives”
“If the front is closed please enter through the backside”
“Let part D screw in to the posterior of part C”
If you do business outside the UK, or want to publish your website and publicity material in other languages it is essential to get the translation right from the outset. Choosing the wrong translator can be expensive and damaging to your business. We laugh at the three examples above, but can you be sure that you might not be causing hilarity, or worse, offence, to readers in other languages?
Here are my twelve golden rules for choosing the right translator.
- Before commissioning a translation take another look at what is to be translated. Is it very oriented to the home market? Does it contain references to British culture that would not be understood in, say, Japan? Consider having it rewritten to suit an international audience.
- When you are ready to commission your translator you are faced with many options. While it might be tempting to find a language student or a local teacher this can be the route to disaster. Apart from the confidentiality issue, teaching language demands a special set of skills. But these skills are rarely the same as those needed to produce a smooth, stylish translation. The risks are even greater if you opt for student translators. Think about it! Would you get your company accounts prepared by an A-level student? Or allow a medical student to remove your appendix?
- Your translator should hold a translation qualification. In the UK he or she should be a member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) or the Chartered Institute of Linguists – the two major professional bodies in the UK. Similar professional standards exist in most European countries.
- Make sure that your translator will be working into his or her mother tongue. That is the only way to obtain a smooth, flowing text that sounds as if it had been originally written in the target language. Be aware that there is often a huge difference in regional variation. For example, do not get a Portuguese translator to translate a document aimed at Brazilian customers.
- Your translator should be experienced in your business or industry and be able to show this by providing references, evidence of continuing professional development or samples of work.
- Get to know your translator. He needs to have as much background about your company as possible. For example, if you work with an agency in France allow the translator to consult with them for terminology. You could even invite him to tour your premises.
- Tell your translator the purpose of the translation. Translating a contract is very different from translating website marketing copy for maximum sales impact. The more information your translator has about what you are aiming for the better the results will be.
- Finalise the text before the translation work begins. Translating a work-in-progress is always more time-consuming and thus more expensive. Having multiple versions can lead to misunderstandings between you and the translator.
- Provide glossaries in your language to explain complex technical terms that might not be readily available to your translator.
- Allow your translator to ask questions and seek clarification of your text. A good translator analyses every element of every sentence and may well help you to improve your original.
- Never use Google Translate or Bing. Results are just about OK to get the gist of an email sent to you by a client. But publish the results at your peril!
- Allow your translator to proof-read the final version before publication to check for correct hyphenations, headings, captions, etc. Do not let non-native speakers ‘fiddle’ with the text. Remember the posters in Arabic at the London Olympics? The translation was fine but the typographers printed it back to front.
If your project consists of several languages at once you may be considering finding a translation company. My advice here is to research potential translation agencies. The best way to do this is simply to Google ‘translation companies’ + ‘your industry’. You might find that you can relate to a small to medium-sized company rather than a huge international one. Small language service providers are much more likely to use the same translator for your work. Such an arrangement ensures consistency and that your translator is always familiar with your products.
Follow these simple rules and avoid the pain, expense and trauma of the disastrous howlers shown at the beginning of this article.