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Lost in Translation? A Few Points to Consider


We’ve all seen the laughable instructions that come with some cheap Chinese gadgets: “finger in socket not fine for shockable power pushing.”

Incomprehensible, right?

Yet… how do you know if your translations are any better? Generally you send them to the local office and ask someone to approve. That’s a good idea, but you shouldn’t ‘wash your hands’ of the matter, assuming that Joe in Calcutta (Kolkata, if you prefer) is both a technical expert and a master of Bengali.

At Vertical we work with translators who have proven their worth when it comes to the technology and the nuances of language. Plus, we’ve learned that a large part of the process involves managing the translation so that it never gets too far off track or too expensive.

Here are a few things to consider.

1. A successful translation is not just about the technology, it’s about the nuance of the story. The example above actually conveys the technological point: don’t put your finger into an electrical socket because you’ll get shocked. But that’s just a part of what’s being conveyed. The crudeness speaks volumes about your company’s understanding of local culture and how truly interested you are in doing business. The lesson here is to focus on the nuances and translate with a bit of style. To do that successfully, consider creating multilingual style guides that help translators pick up on the tone of voice you want to capture and understand how different global regions should represent the local corporate message. These guides take a bit of time to create, but will serve you well for years to come.

2. Maintain a database of all previously translated material. This is a no-brainer, yet many companies haven’t a clue as to how such a database positively affects translations. It’s clear that a database of ‘approved’ words and pharses adds consistency to your translations because, in part, you’re not reinventing the wheel each time.

And consider costs. Translating an initial 5,000 word document might cost £1000 (@ 20p a word). Let’s assume you need to update 20% of the content six months later. Without a translation database you’ll have to pay £1000 again, rather than spending £600 (1000 new words at 20p per and 4,000 ‘old’ words at 10p per).

3. In the same vein, before you begin, create a ‘corporate glossary’ – that is, identify the words, terms and phrases particular to your company that will be difficult to translate. Have the translator start with these and then review the results with all internal stakeholders before you proceed.

(We’ve been managing the translation of technical and marketing documents for over 20 years. This experience has taught us the value of a good translation, the damage a bad one can cause and how to shift the odds of getting the best possible results in favour of our clients.)


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