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Choosing the right translator for your overseas campaign

Anyone targeting overseas markets knows how important correct translation of their marketing collateral and company profile is. However, using the services of a translator or interpreter can be tricky. There is nothing worse than using a translator for your overseas campaign and getting your message mixed up. We have all seen examples like these before:

  • Sign at a French hotel: “Please leave your values at the front desk”
  • Sign at a Bangkok dry cleaners: “Please drop your trousers here for best results”
  • Sign at a Japanese hotel: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid”

These may make you giggle, but there is nothing funny about lost credibility with your clients, thousands spent on a failed advertising campaign, or complete corporate humiliation. However, acquiring and using the services of a translator and/or interpreter can raise many questions. Before you plan or commit to using the services of a translator or an interpreter, take a few moments to read this guide. Informed choices yield the best results.

Interpreter or translator?
Interpreters speak, translators write. Checkers check the translated text against the English original, and proofreaders check the text without comparing with the original. If you need your company documentation in a foreign language, you will need a translator. If you need someone on site with you to facilitate communication with your potential or current trade partner, you will need an interpreter. If your trade partner is organising the interpreter in their country, you may want to organise your own interpreter to ensure objectivity during negotiation.

Language service is a service you pay for. Historically, exporters have been reluctant to demand the quality and accountability of any other such service due to feeling unqualified to judge. But there is no valid reason why you should not be fully involved in verifying the quality of the service you’ve received when working with a professional.

Translation and interpretation professionals are experts at communication. They should communicate any technical obstacles to translation, the reasons things do and do not work, and the rationale for everything they do in your paid employ. All you have to do is ask the questions.

Finding a translator
You need someone accredited by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators & Interpreters of Australia (NAATI) because all translations are checked by second independent translators and proofed by editors. The editors are international journalists who make sure that the translation sounds natural and captures the hearts and minds of the target market. The international journalists translate all press releases.

Translation and interpretation practitioners are not mind readers. They need a lot of prior knowledge before they can do the job. It’s your task to provide this information. Beware the practitioner who doesn’t ask questions!

How much will it cost? Obtain quotes on written work wherever possible. In Australia, translation work is charged per 100 words. Shop around and measure the professionalism of the responses you receive. If some quotes come in at half the rate of others, you should question their experience and what is included in their service.

How long will it take? Let the translator or translation agency of written material tell you how long things should take. Make sure you let them know if something is urgent. If you want the job in 24 hours, this will entail an extra cost. However, if you want 10 pages of telecommunications tender documents completed overnight, you’ve probably left it too late. Talk to someone as soon as you know translation or interpreting will be required.

Train your translators. Don’t pay a series of people to reinvent the wheel. Every time you work with someone, you have invested in their knowledge of your problem. Sometimes you can maximise your return on investment by using the same people. Your translation agency will allocate a translation team to you and always use the same people to ensure consistency.

Check the dialect your target market speaks.
South American Spanish or Madrid Spanish? North African or Gulf Arabic? Do you want English for non-English mother tongue readers? Be specific. Speak your reader’s language. Put yourself in their shoes, and focus on how your products and services can serve their needs and you will succeed.

Right first time
Companies spend thousands of dollars on their websites, yet relegate their international business cards to the local copy shop. You only have one chance to make a first impression: having your business card correct is part of that. Your business card is probably the most powerful means of communication you use.

Translate your title. Most international business cards are over-translated, but the one item on a business card that must be translated is your title. Translation of titles is a difficult, yet critical, task since titles define organisational rank. Foreign businesses and organisations want to assign people of the same rank to deal with you. Even in English there are differences, for example in Australia the title ‘managing director’ is equivalent to the US title ‘president’.

Do not translate your address. What is the post office in Australia going to do with a letter or package that is addressed to you in Thai?

Transliterate your name and company. The names of the person and the company must be transliterated as a guide to pronunciation. Eliminate middle initials for simplicity.

Arrange contact numbers in the country’s format. In Australia we separate the area code and then have four digits grouped together, whereas Europeans are used to all phone numbers running together, for example.

Getting your communication right is essential for doing business internationally. Choosing the correct translator will help you to effectively promote your brand and get your message across in overseas markets.

— Tea Dietterich is president of the Australian Institute for Translators & Interpreters (AUSIT) Queensland, director of translation agency Multimedia Languages & Marketing (www.2m.com.au), and an advanced NAATI translator and interpreter.


Chinese whispers

Many Australian exporters have started doing business with the Chinese. Chinese language collateral plays an important role, but there are some special considerations that must be kept in mind. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Do I need separate versions of my document in both Mandarin and Cantonese?
Mandarin and Cantonese are the names of two different spoken dialects of Chinese. Both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers however, can generally read written Chinese. The more important question to ask is whether the document is destined for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or outside the PRC.

Can I send the same Chinese document to Taiwan, the PRC and Hong Kong?
Generally speaking, there are two forms of written Chinese: Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. If you have documents to be used in both Taiwan and the PRC, you will normally require two separate versions. You need separate business cards for Taiwan and the PRC: the Taiwanese cannot read Simplified Chinese. When in doubt, the safe option is to choose Traditional Chinese.

What is Simplified Chinese?

Simplified Chinese, also known as Modern Chinese, was developed from the traditional form in the PRC in the late 1950s to increase the level of literacy. The complex traditional form was limiting, and was understood and used by only half the population. Around 7,000 Simplified characters replaced some 13,500 Traditional characters.

When the PRC was recognised by the United Nations in 1971, Simplified Chinese became the official written language used in China. Singapore also made it their official written language.

What is Traditional Chinese?
Traditional Chinese, also Complex (or Full Form) Chinese, is the traditional and more complex form of the written language. All Chinese communities outside Mainland China, except Singapore, use it. Traditional users consider it to be a more sophisticated form of Chinese, which is why the Taiwanese refuse to use the Simplified form; another is, as claimants to being the true rulers of China, they could not validate a system sanctioned by Mainland China.

— Tea Dietterich, president of the AUSIT Queensland


Translation Tips for Exporters
Translating into the languages of your customers shows you are serious about doing business with them, and content that reflects the culture of the local market is key to increasing your export success.

Additionally, many countries now require documentation to be translated, such as with European product packaging.

Free machine translation can be useful to get the gist of a text, but using machine-translated text for your product documentation can have embarrassing and disastrous consequences, ranging from damage to your company image to expensive litigation.

Discussing the purpose of your translation and its intended audience with your translators can ensure a safer and more effective product.

How to get the best from a translation service:

  • Have a meeting or discussion with a translation service and have your technical or marketing team participate. Talk about your objectives and your export markets. Bring with you material and information about software programs used, technical documentation, websites, etc.
  • Ask the service to recommend different solutions to handle your translation projects based on your specific requirements and budget.
  • Simplify your writing style and avoid local idioms or colloquialisms: you will make the task of translation easier, and reduce misunderstandings.
  • Help the translator and editor familiarise themselves with your product and company, provide them with any support material, references, glossaries, etc.
  • Provide an accessible contact person for questions in case the translators or editors need quick answers.

—Linda LaCombe, Australian Export Translation Service (www.aetstranslation.com.au)

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Tea Dietterich

Tea Dietterich

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