Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Check these points before you ask for a translationHelping your translator to help you

If you’re a company looking to do business abroad, getting your translation spot on can be a case of make or break. There have been many translation blunders over the years. Take the example of Clairol, who introduced their “Mist Stick” curling iron into Germany. Unfortunately for them, the pronunciation is very similar to that of the German word “Miststück”, which is a none too flattering word, the German-English translation akin to “bitch” or “bastard”. Hair-curling no, toe-curling most definitely.

To avoid such embarrassing and costly errors, best to prepare well before launching your new venture and to follow a few steps as outlined below.

Brief, and make it long

The most important step. Tell your translator exactly what you need and why. The briefing stage should be a two-way conversation; ask your translator questions and expect questions in return, and listen to their advice. Being clear from the start saves time, money and possible gaffes.

Pitch Perfect

Writers should never forget their audience. Tranlsators are writers. It stands to reason, therefore, that they need to know who and what the translation is for. Tell them. Pitch, tone, style, language, they will vary depending on whether it is an ad or a memo, for example, or if it’s being aimed at Spanish or South American people.

Keep it snappy

Finding the time to trim down a document can be difficult; however, the more text you give to a translator, the higher the cost and the greater the probability of there being errors. Think about what is absolutely necesssary for your target audience and leave out the rest.

Say it with pictures

A picture speaks a thousand words, as they say. What they don’t tell you is that pictures cost little or nothing to translate. Use images, graphs, diagrams, photos, and make more of an impact on your audience, and less of one on your budget.

Put it in neutral

Don’t be too culturally colourful. Colloquialisms, idioms, cultural references, they can all confuse foreign audiences so keep your language plain where possible. If necessary, however, speak with your translator and find out which idioms and ideas can be suitably translated into the target language, and save embarrassing blushes.

Finish before you start

Only give translators final drafts where possible. Trying to save time by translating earlier drafts can go horribly wrong with changes and corrections being lost along the way and errors slipping through the net.

Avoid DIY

Do-it-yourself is for the home – bookshelves, IKEA flatpacks, that sort of thing. When it comes to translation, leave it to the professionals. As much as you may fancy yourself as a fluent and loquacious bilingual, making corrections or additions to your translator’s work – or worse, trying to do the whole thing yourself – can be disastrous.

Finally, bear in mind that translators, or at least the majority of them, are not mind readers. Plan your material well in advance, brief them precisely and work with them throughout the translation process; do this, and prepare to succeed.

Want more tips? Check out this guide to translation and getting it right.


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