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How to…understand translation and why it’s important

Download this how-to guide as a PDF

Put simply, translation is conveying the meaning of a text from one language (the source text) to another (the target).

It’s been a way of communicating for centuries and if you think about how it’s used, without it, the world would be a very different place.

The only time it’s really noticed though, is when it goes wrong. If it’s done right, no-one will ever guess they’re reading a translated document. There are tell-tale signs that something’s a translation rather than an original piece of writing but that’s for another time.

Because translation is a largely uncelebrated profession, the contribution made to business by translators is often invisible. This results in a lot of assumptions being made about translators and the art of translation itself.

If you’re thinking about using a translation service that will provide your customers with an authentic experience, this guide will help you to get it right… first time!

First off though, here are a few misconceptions about translators and the role of translation in a business context:

  1. Anyone who speaks a language can automatically translate anything.
  2. Translation’s just a word-for-word adaptation of the original, in another language.
  3. A translator can take a beautifully crafted text and convey the message perfectly in another language just because they understand the target language.
  4. Google translate does the job!

The reality:

  1. Translators are experts in specific fields, not all fields. They will have learned their skills over many years. They also have a thorough knowledge of the languages they translate, will possess excellent grammar skills, understand a culture’s dos and don’ts and be skilled writers.
  2. Translation isn’t just about words, but also concepts. For example, idioms and plays on words do not always translate successfully but there is likely to be an alternative that isn’t a direct translation. Only professional linguists will have this level of insight.
  3. Marketing and high-visibility texts are often written by experts and perfected by copywriters. These writers/copywriters will be experts in writing for your home market. The target language text will require the same treatment but in addition, will need to be localised so that the end user feels they’re reading something authentic, written especially for them. To achieve this, your translator will also have an understanding of your target market, customs and culture. It’s a bit like reading a travel guide that’s been written by locals with personal knowledge versus one written by someone who’s researched a destination on the Internet and then written about it. The experience will be far more authentic and accurate if written by the former.
  4. Google Translate (and similar) is a useful and free tool for when you need a basic understanding of a fairly simple text, but is definitely not recommended for any business-critical, technical or marketing texts.

Here are a few tips that may help when deciding about getting something translated and what type of translation you need

Are you looking for generic translation?

Great for a basic understanding, so fine for some content types that are for information only (internal documentation, letters, emails, messages). Free translation tools may work fine for getting the gist of a document as long as their limitations are understood (note that some languages are more accurate than others). Otherwise, look to work with a professional agency that offers translation-only options (this will mean you’re not paying for a second linguist to review the text, which is always recommended for any documents that are going to be distributed or published).

Do you need specialist translations such as technical, medical, legal and anything containing specialist terminology?

It’s highly recommended that this type of translation is carried out by experienced translators. They will need:

  1. An in-depth knowledge of your sector, any regulations, cultural differences, terminology and typical writing style.
  2. The right credentials, proven experience and the ability to provide samples and examples of their work.
  3. Accuracy and the use of appropriate writing style: this type of translation doesn’t necessarily focus on beautiful style in the way a piece of advertising or marketing content does. It’s aimed at providing accurate information of sometimes sensitive content. This type of translation needs a final revision by a second translator and in the case of medical and life science translations, it is essential that further Quality Assurance checks are also carried out. This is often a regulatory requirement.

Maybe you’re looking for high-visibility translations such as online and offline marketing content including websites and brochures?

If your purpose of looking into translation is with a view to entering new markets, increasing your presence in existing international markets or just to build strong customer relationships, here are a few things to bear in mind:

Some companies have in-house teams working on their marketing content in their own language, or they may turn to a specialist content writer to create something that reflects your ethos, message and also appeals to your customer – after all, it’s all about promoting products and services.

Translating marketing copy needs the same level of care as your original. If you only adapt what you’ve written for your home market, it may not even be relevant in another country.

Your target audience will have different expectations, desires and experiences and if you don’t know your target market in the way you know your own, it’s essential to get your translated content right. Otherwise, it won’t hit the spot and the results will be disappointing.

Knowing more about cultural differences, preferences and expectations will be a game-changer for companies looking to succeed in overseas markets. Translation agencies can successfully partner with you/your marketing teams/your web developers to provide the best language solutions.

Why use a translation agency?

It’s a common misconception that agencies just act as post boxes between translator and client. If you’re looking for credentials, look out of companies with ISO17100 accreditation. This is specific to the translation industry and is your guarantee that their processes and quality are tried, tested and successful. Also check that they are members of a recognised industry association, such as the ATC (Association of Translation Companies). Associations only allow companies with good credentials and reputation to join.

Our experience has been built up over many years and over thousands of projects in many different languages. Translation services have been a growing sector year-on-year for as long as we’ve been in business. It’s no longer a cottage industry and there’s a good reason for this as companies are realising the value of translation and are actively setting translation budgets to open up new market opportunities.

Some of the benefits:

  • Agencies invest in specialist software that can save you money and ensure your translations are consistent and accurate.
  • They employ full-time recruiters, project managers, account managers, in-house linguists and localisation engineers.
  • They actively recruit the best linguists and rigorously test them. This is done on a continuous basis, not just once at the beginning of the relationship. Quality is a client expectation, not anything over and above. Agencies understand that this is a basic requirement but work hard to ensure that corners are not cut and that quality is consistently good.

This investment is aimed at providing translations that are second-to-none.

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