7 myths and misconceptions in language translation for business

Tea Dietterich

Tea Dietterich
Tea C Dietterich is managing director of 2M Language Services where she leads publication-quality translation to more than 155 languages, as well as cross-cultural training and simultaneous conference interpreting for international events. Tea is a board member of ABIE France (Australian Business in Europe), former President of AUSIT QLD (Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators), sits on the board of the AUSIT National Council, and is a member of the NAATI RAC, AEC/AIEX and the prime international industry organisations GALA and ELIA.

Translation of your business messages into foreign languages may seem easy with the internet at your fingertips and bilingual friends on call. However, casual translations often result in messages translated quite literally, instead of rephrasing them to make them more readable, and won’t check things like grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and expressions that might be local to a particular market.

When you write for an audience in another 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.

A good example to consider is Julia Gillard’s Chinese version of Australia in the Asian Century. It contained broken sentences, grammar and syntax errors, inappropriate vocabulary and incomprehensible expressions, leading many to question how it was prepared.

The Australian newspaper reported that, “It is reasonable to suspect that the person who translated this white paper relied heavily on Google Translate, not their Asian language skills.”

Further to this, modern day machine translation (MT) systems have become much more advanced than the capabilities offered online, and can recognise common linguistic differences in a way that internet systems cannot.

In this article I’ll break down some myths and misconceptions and what you need to know about in language translation for business purposes.

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?’ and ‘Could messages be misinterpreted?’ –  instead of just ‘What’s your opinion?’ – should be asked.

3. Machine translation is more than Google Translate

Machine Translation (MT) systems aren’t just a version of Google Translate. In fact, the term refers to professionally-programmed IT translation engines, trained for a specific technical subject, trained with millions of approved 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.

 

Comments

  1. Chin Communications says:

    Tea makes some great points about translation and the amount of input required to deliver a good result. We were actually commissioned to review the PM’s disastrous White Paper Chinese Translation and, while we don’t agree with The Australian Newspaper that it was done in Google, it was very embarrassing and obvious that whoever translated it had little knowledge of the Australian context. I’d therefore add to Tea’s comments that cheap prices usually equal poor results, or, in the PM’s case, PR disasters.

    Secondly, I’d make the following helpful point: if you are considering translation use a specialist in the target language. As Tea illustrated with her German idiom, so too a language like Chinese has its own idiosyncrasies and requires expertise well beyond your bilingual staff or Chinese friends.