The Quality of your Final Translation Depends on... You

What?  I thought translators determined how well translations turn out!  To a large extent, they do, but they are not the only parties involved.  How can you do your part to ensure that your company's clients are getting just what they need from a translation? 

A brochure written by a team of translation professionals includes many helpful suggestions, including:

Consider your audience.   Ask yourself, does my foreign language audience need to read this entire document, or will translating only a portion of it suffice?  Do the cultural references have meaning outside the original language's culture, or should I modify or eliminate them?  Is the document for internal use only, or for clients (in which case style as well as content become essential)?  The document's intended use can make a big difference as far as how it's rendered, so make sure your translator knows from the beginning who and what the document is for.

Talk to your translators!  The best outcomes occur when teams work together, so think of your translators as teammates, not nameless individuals with whom your only contact is sending documents and receiving translations.  Good translators will ask you questions.  Far from being a sign of incompetence, this demonstrates their desire to deliver just what you need.  Share as much information with them as you can about the document.  Be involved from start to finish. 

If getting out top-quality information to your clients is your priority, you're probably itching to read more (and we hope you are).  Links to the brochure in several languages can be found here.  

Translating Badly: It's Easier Than You Think

One memorable mistake is all it takes for your company to go down in bad translation history. A recent SME Web article reminisces on some of businesses' worst translation mistakes and reminds us of some of the many ways a good translation can be derailed.

Euphemisms and Idiomatic Expressions

Creating advertisements for vacuums has to be tough.  Almost nothing rhymes with "vacuum," and nobody thinks about vacuums unless theirs breaks. So you can hardly blame the Swedish appliance company for thinking they'd struck gold with the catchy phrase "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." This is one of those cases where running the idea by a native-speaking proofreader (or even a couple of American teenagers) could have caught the idiomatic error and prevented the company's message from backfiring.

Translating Literally

"Vuela en cuero" means exactly the same thing as "fly in leather," literally. But the image it creates in Spanish speakers' heads distracts from the intended message, to say the least. (Can you imagine boarding a plane to find all the first class passengers disrobed?) So, even when it works grammatically - which is rare - a literal translation may spell trouble.

Unfortunately, these are only a couple of the ways translations can be done incorrectly, but all is not lost!  Knowing where potential pitfalls lie is half the battle. Choosing qualified translators who stand behind their work, allowing them plenty of time to complete the project, and double checking just in case (a good idea no matter what you're doing) can go a long way to ensuring that your translations tell your customers what they need to hear - and are only funny when they're supposed to be.

Good Interpretation Starts Way Before the Meeting

Would you ever hire speakers for an event and wait until they arrived to tell them what their topic of presentation would be? If you did, the effectiveness of the meeting wouldn’t be nearly what it could have been, regardless of the skill and knowledge of the presenters. The same is true when working with interpreters. 

Anyone who has worked with interpreters at conferences and other events understands how indispensable they are to those who otherwise couldn’t understand or participate in the proceedings. Much can be done between the hiring of adept interpreters and the start of the meeting to ensure the best possible outcome.

Translation by Design offers both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting services by interpreters trained in a variety of fields. These professionals are skilled at navigating linguistic and cultural challenges, but even they can benefit from specific information about the events for which they will be interpreting.  TBD has worked with interpreters in advance to more fully meet clients' needs, with great success.

Diligent interpreters will find out what they can about the organization and event ahead of time on their own. If the organization apprises them of such details as speakers’ names, presentation titles, discussion topics, and terms specific to the organization or event, the interpreters can focus their preparation.

Think of it this way: if you found out on short notice that you needed to give a colleague’s presentation for him or her, what information would you want to have? Outlines or notes, PowerPoint slides or other visuals, handouts, etc. would all be extremely helpful. The same kinds of resources that would aid you will help the interpreters be better prepared.

The more all parties, including interpreters, are able to prepare for your event, the better the outcome will be for all.

Chinglish: Funny, yet Serious

While most people wouldn't think to list it as a hobby on a survey, many get a real kick out of chuckling at mistranslations. Such individuals often enjoy the delights afforded by signs, menus, and other messages to be found in public throughout China.

A New York Times article from last year describes the trouble that China went through to try to clean up its English signs in time for Shanghai's 2010 Expo. China’s foreign affairs director explained the reason for the project: ''The purpose of signage is to be useful, not to be amusing.'' He illustrates a point about all translations, which is that they should have the same effect on the reader of the translation as on the reader of the original. What's informational should remain informational; what's humorous, humorous; etc. By crossing over, these signs are not accomplishing their intended aims.

Another translation principle violated is the one that stipulates that professionals should almost always translate into their native languages. This cuts down drastically on the number of awkward, vulgar or nonsensical results. (For more examples, view this slide show).

Translation by Design works with translators who are ATA certified in specific languages and directions (meaning out of and into what language(s) they translate). This makes a big difference in the readability of the final product for the target language reader.

As for the disappearance of Chinglish, entire books of such phrases are available, so it won't disappear entirely, despite efforts to eradicate it. Thus, readers can enjoy such gems from the comfort of their own homes, and park visitors will actually understand what they are and aren't allowed to be doing.

CAT Tools

You may have heard that professional translators use electronic means to help them in their translation. Perhaps you're thinking, "If even translators use computers to translate, why shouldn't I?" Here's why.

These professionals aren't pasting chunks of text into Google Translate and sending the results to their clients. There are specific tools designed for translators. They don't do the work, but they certainly help it along. These tools are called CAT (Computer-Assisted or Computer-Aided Translation) tools. There are various forms of these tools, but all have a few basic functions that help translators do their work consistently and efficiently, including:

- Matches or fuzzy (partial) matches: If you've translated an identical (or almost identical) sentence before, the program brings it up so you can see if you'd like to leave it the same way or change it for the current project.

- Terminology storage: The CAT tool brings up saved terms (meaning words or phrases specific to a subject or company) as needed, so there's no need to re-research previously-used technical terms, and the terminology stays consistent.

A study published in the Translation Journal compares productivity between jobs done with and without CAT tools, and concludes that "CAT tools offer invaluable help in terminology and style consistency," and that these tools vastly improve productivity, as well.  Trusting a machine to do all the work is a bit like letting your cat do the project for you; CAT tools bring together a translator's previous data and efforts to generate superior results in less time.

CAT tools are exactly the kind of product that help Translation by Design achieve its high translation standards. The best translators plus the best tools bring about the very best results.  

Public Transit: A Public Nuisance?

Many of us, at some point, have decided to give public transportation a try. Our good intentions may have been quickly quashed upon realizing that the process might not be as simple as we’d hoped. Taking public transportation can be complicated and confusing, especially for first-time users. Now imagine how much harder the experience would be if you couldn’t even read the information in your own language.

If you visit the City of Denver’s public transit site, you’ll notice that the information is available in a pretty decent array of languages. Upon closer examination, however, you learn that this is made possible by Google Translate, which, as previously discussed, does not often yield satisfactory results. The Spanish version, while mostly decipherable, was far from grammatically correct or convenient to read. (Denver is by no means the only one taking this shortcut: Boston and New York City do the same).

In contrast, San Francisco’s site only includes language options for Chinese and Spanish. While speakers of many languages live in and visit San Francisco, the city seems to have identified who the main foreign-language readers are and made the pages actually readable for these individuals.

Translation by Design has experience in the field of transportation, understanding the importance of clear communication on these matters. TBD provides translation and interpreting services to many transportation agencies and sectors, allowing for effective communication in the languages most used by these agencies.

Those who want more people to use their transit systems would do well to trust people, not machines, to help them get the word out. Good translation in the languages you really need can take you a long way.

Speaking Their Language: Multilingual Websites, Part II

As was pointed out on last week's post, there are many potential clients and consumers out there, many of which can only be reached if websites are made accessible in languages other than English. More people reached, more business, right? If this is such a spectacular idea, why haven't more people jumped on the bandwagon?

One reason is that, as an article on localization from The Globe and Mail points out, you have to be able to serve the needs of customers beyond merely giving them words to read in their own languages if you are to be successful.

When Translation by Design localized Dr. Likover's website on knee replacement surgery to meet the needs of Arabic-speaking Middle-Eastern clients, they had to make changes to several components, including the email software, the images, the site's entire layout (due to language differences), and its search keywords. Additionally, TBD arranged for clients to be able to contact Dr. Likover through the site (using Skype or email). This last aspect is very important: simply making the company's information available to clients is, after all, only a preliminary step for any business.

Adapting your site to meet clients' linguistic needs requires careful planning. Trying to cut corners in this area is likely to yield unsatisfactory results. You'll want to thoughtfully consider which language(s) you currently need based on which individuals you would like most to reach. Once you've decided, be sure you make a good localization provider choice. One that will consistently do good work every step of the way is infinitely better than simply dashing ahead with translating the words and leaving the everything else to chance.

Speaking Their Language: Multilingual Websites

How many languages does it take to reach 85% of the world's consumers? Eleven of them, says Common Sense Advisory Inc.

According to a recent article in Internet Retailer, English-language websites are accessible to the largest number of those consumers, 23.2% of them. But Chinese is just behind (22.3%). Spanish is next with 9.0%, followed by Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian, Korean and Italian.

It is relatively easy to find translators who work in these languages. However, beyond the translation of the content, the site's formatting and other issues that pertain specifically to website translation and localization must be considered.

Translation by Design has experience in localizing websites. In addition to translators who can adapt the content to suit the linguistic needs of readers, TBD also has expertise in tailoring sites to take into account cultural and visual factors particular to the target audience, which often requires a variety of adjustments beyond changing simply the words. You have worked hard to get your website just right so that it appeals to its current readers visually as well as linguistically, and if you're going to branch out into additional languages, the process should be carried out with just as much attention to detail.

Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were Wikipedia and Mozilla, both of which reach vast numbers of people in many languages. Quality is just as important as quantity when expanding your site to reach more consumers. The right translation company can help you adapt your site to suit your consumers, no matter what languages they read.

Hey! That's Not Funny!

One of my first experiences with translating humor came in a college class when a professor took dialogue from The Simpsons and put it into an electronic translator from English to Spanish. The results were hilarious, but not because the Spanish captured the carefully-crafted wittiness of the original. Quite the opposite: the phrases were laughable because they made no sense.

Clearly, using a machine is no way to translate movie subtitles or dialogue, but how hard can it really be for a human? It's not exactly rocket science, right? Actually, it may be more complicated.

An article in the Translation Journal analyses the translation of humor, dividing it into different categories (cultural references, wordplay, etc.) to see how the meanings were transferred. Some of the jokes that depended on cultural references were replaced by different, comparable ones from the target culture, or by different types of jokes entirely. The goal in this type of translation is to create the same effect for viewers of another culture, which often requires changing much more than just words. Often, an equivalent cultural reference or linguistic play needs to be found, and in such a case, the translator’s sense of humor is just as important as the original screenwriter’s.

So, it does require a very particular type of genius, after all, to translate movies scripts from one language to another. Translation by Design has experience in translating subtitles and voice-overs for very particular audiences (see a case study here). The result of trusting the text to the wrong translator would be no laughing matter.

Rare Languages: Going, Going...Gone?

How many languages can you name off the top of your head? 30? 40? 50 would be impressive. Even if you named 100, though, you would have identified only a fraction of the thousands spoken throughout the world.

According to UNESCO, over 6,000 languages are in use today, many of them by tiny populations. You might argue that services in these languages are not really necessary, since many of their speakers are bilingual, having picked up other languages either upon leaving homelands or by conforming to the dominant languages around them. The fact that these speakers tend to adopt non-native languages only intensifies the need for recording and translating these languages' documents: many languages are at risk of becoming extinct. As a New York Times article on rare languages points out, if their words are not recorded and spread, they (and the cultures associated with them) may disappear entirely.

Recognizing a need for these languages' translation, transcription, or other linguistic services is only the first step. Finding people who can help is often difficult. Most language service companies, even those that offer many languages, deal only with relatively common ones. A handful are willing to put in the extra time and effort required to locate people proficient in these rare languages. Translation by Design recently completed translations in Balochi, Karen, Creole and Tigrinya. Many other companies wouldn't dare take on such a task. (Be honest - did you even know Karen was a language?)

Current speakers of these languages, as well as future generations, will be grateful to those who stepped in to preserve and document their languages and cultures before they went the way of the dinosaurs.

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