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Myths in language translation for business

Translation of your business messages into foreign languages could seem easy with the Internet at your fingertips.

However, the Internet will often translate your messages quite literally. They will not rephrase them to make them more readable, nor check the grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and expressions that might be local to a particular market.

When you write for a country or region of the world, you must localise the meanings and intents of metaphors and statements and make your words natural to the reader in order to be taken seriously as a real business constituent.

1. There is a lot more involved in high quality translation for business

You may think that you just need a translator but in essence, to guarantee high quality materials, you will need a lot more. International campaigns, documents and websites will not only involve translation, but localisation, checking, revision, editing as well as desktop publishing and file handling.

Think about how long it took you to create that English brochure? Materials created for a foreign audience will require a little more care in their preparation. You will often need a second pair of eyes, an industry expert to verify terminology, and an editor for final publication. Also, you will often need project management to handle your file formats, connection to your content management system and your internal systems.

 2. Bilingual friends or colleagues could do more harm than good

Translating business documents or marketing materials through bilingual colleagues or friends can be dangerous, as they might not be familiar with the subject area or could be from another region of the country you are translating for. Or, they might be native speakers, but do not have an excellent command of the language, or they might know enough about the subject matter, but their feedback might not be relevant or helpful.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a very useful place for these bilingual contacts, but they need to be given clear and precise instructions when translating business and marketing documents. Questions like “Is the message getting across?”, “Does the translation use the right language for the target market?”,  “Could messages be misinterpreted?” –  instead of just “ What’s your opinion?” – should be asked.

3. Machine Translation is more than Google Translate

You may think that Machine Translation (MT) systems are just a version of Google Translate, but in fact, the term refers to professionally programmed IT translation engines, trained for a specific technical subject, trained with millions of approved TMs (translation memories) and fed with a high volume of technical data to be able to produce a fast and pertinent output against a source text that has been written specifically for MT purposes.

The translated text is then still revised by human “post editors”. The use of the tool enables people to be more efficient on repetitive tasks that can be automated, and to use the skills of high quality translation professionals for more complicated translations.

MT is not to be confused with Translation Management Systems. These handle complicated file formats and can hold translation memories of entire segments of translated text in a database. They assist the translator to achieve consistency when similar terms and contexts come up again in future translation and can often save you, the client, money when many repetitions occur in high volume texts.

4. A back translation will not give you the full message

An ad agency was recently outraged when they used back translation to have a German translation translated back into English, and read that someone was “going to eat a broom”!  You see… pigs fly in the English language, but Germans will eat a broom if they don’t believe something will happen. It is because of these nuances that back translations should not be used to measure quality. Back translation should only be used in rare circumstances and done by a language professional who knows how to interpret the results. Independent checkers, focus group testing, community feedback and industry editors are a much more efficient way to ensure quality of the intended message.

5. High quality input gives high quality output

You may be committed to getting high quality translation, but if your own message is not clear from the start, it is difficult for the translator to guess what you mean and transmit it.  For best quality, a clear source text must be provided and translators should be equipped with as much information as possible such as background, style guides, related articles, links, glossary lists, anything you have to ensure the translator fully understands your subject and your message.

7. Don’t mix and match your translators

Translators become familiar with your style, terminology and subject area. So, if you have a good one, stick with them and train them to your needs. Even if you have glossaries and style guides, consistency is best achieved by continuing to work with those who are familiar with your content.

Using various different providers can result in mixed messaging and less efficiency in your translations. Very often, changes in translations are a matter of personal preference or ignorance on background knowledge, and you may find yourself spending a lot of time just redoing the versions, when it was often only matter of opinion.

As you can see there are many considerations in getting the quality right when translating for business. With translation, it can sometimes be a bit like picking up your car from the garage and wondering… what did the mechanic really do? But of course, there are varying degrees of services that can be applied for different types of outputs required. A high quality provider can show you the options and guide you through the process to ensure that your message hits the mark with your target audience.

Written by Tea C. Dietterich, Director of 2M Language Services.

About the author

Through her firm 2M, Tea is in charge of providing translations with publication quality into 155+ languages. Further services include foreign language typesetting and DTP, multilingual publications, website & software localization, apps, multilingual voice overs, dubbing and subtitling. 2M also provides cross cultural training and simultaneous conference interpreting for international events.

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