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Nine Tips for Not Getting Lost in Translation

Today’s global economy means companies are doing business all over the world, which 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 because they see you are trying to identify with these potential customers and are literally “speaking their language.”

Translating key messages
Global marketplace discussions often reference the famous story of how the Chevy Nova failed in Latin America. The vehicle allegedly didn’t 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 it wasn’t an issue), but nonetheless, it remains a good example of how key messages can be lost in translation.

Online translation tools such as Google Translate produce translated material by simply typing in phrases. However, these tools don’t understand or distinguish certain phrases, which is important when targeting specific markets such as the already-niche concrete industry.

In a recent presentation, “Getting Translation Right: 10 Ways to Make Your Translation Projects More Efficient,” Smartling, a New York-based translation company, described the “hows and whys” 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’s important to remember that if there is an incorrect translation, there’s 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. Hire a professional. Don’t ask bilingual staff or family to translate just because they are native speakers. Simply knowing the language isn’t enough. The person translating also must thoroughly understand the nuances of translation. Enlist bilingual staff in other ways, such as getting them to create style guides for each language, define terminology and review 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.

3. Localize content for culture/geographic location. There are not always word-for-word translations and even when there are, there may be subtle differences in dialects or slang usage. Localizing content means the customer experience should be native to the individual on every level.

This not only means having 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 current events and customs.

4. Let translators work in context. Allow translators and reviewers to see what is being translated in the way end users will view it. Take the word “home,” for example. The English word home is used for a place to live and for a home page on a website. If translators are given the word “home” on a spreadsheet without any other information, they won’t know its intended use. Let translators see exactly how the content will be presented to the customer.

5. Use cloud-based technology for efficiency. Instead of a spreadsheet to manage translation, use a cloud-based technology 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.

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.

7. Use translation memory during the translation process. “Translation memory” functions as a database of sentences that has already been translated and approved. They are stored and accessed the next time a translation job is worked on. The translators know it’s exactly the same so they don’t have to translate that same word or sentence again.

8. Review content early and often. Identify and review a sample piece of content to help you spot potential problems early on. Pinpoint the terminology key to your business to get that terminology translated for the crucial markets.

9. Establish a plan to maintain and update future content. Once translation of a website or marketing materials is complete, the content must be maintained. Consider the frequency of changes and updates, including developing a plan to decide when another language becomes a priority and how easy it would be to add another language — or even 10 more languages. Smartling recommends starting to grow the market when significant revenue can be added.

Tina Grady Barbaccia is a seasoned technical writer and editor who has worked in the trade press industry for the past 18 years — the last 10 of which have been in construction and concrete. Grady Barbaccia is an architecture, engineering and construction editorial specialist for Constructive Communication Inc. and may be reached at [email protected]

Translation versus ‘Transcreation’: What’s the difference?

Translation is the transformation of information from one language to another. ‘Transcreation’ is taking the concept or information and 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 U.S.

As noted in the Smartling presentation, sometimes the translated phrases may not make any sense in a different market. Even if the content is relevant, it’s being expressed in a way that just doesn’t mean anything to the people reading it. The translators instead need to ‘transcreate’ or really recreate that particular marketing message to make it relevant to that language, culture and country.

Translations result in new words in another language, but with the same messaging. With ‘transcreation,’ the result is a brand-new message that’s targeted and localized. A typical example is a ‘homerun.’ Although a homerun and its relationship to baseball is understood throughout the United States, it won’t make any sense in French.

To ensure proper translations, write the marketing or website copy in a way that’s idiom free. Sometimes, however, when trying to make an impact on a certain market, idioms can be effective. In that situation, keep your idioms centralized on the market you’re trying to reach.

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