Poorly translated copy can do much more harm than good to your organization’s reputation. While reviewing another agency’s translations for one of our clients, we read a phrase that made us cringe. The client wanted to say, “We do not cut corners.” The other agency’s translation, however, was “No somos mezquinos,” meaning, “We are not misers.”
Not only did the translation not even remotely convey the company’s intended message, “mezquinos” is a crude word in Spanish that has absolutely no place in formal communications. Because no one on the company’s communication staff speaks Spanish, the improper phrasing appeared in newsletters distributed to all its employees!
If you don’t understand the target language, make translators prove their worth.
Find other people who grew up speaking and writing the target language — whether it’s Spanish or Mandarin Chinese — to thoroughly review the initial translation, even if you have to pay them. Then you can be assured your translations are correct. We recommend this practice to our clients.
Reviewers should focus on errors and barriers that might keep the consumer from understanding the intended message. Avoid random changes in style. Keep in mind that language is not an exact science. Just as we paraphrase our thoughts when we express opinions, words can be combined and expressed in different ways. In translation, information is transferred from one set of codes into a second set of codes, always taking meaning and style into account. A single message can have multiple accurate translations depending on the style and tone of the text.
The reviewers must be sure not to introduce regional variants and should possess a strong knowledge of syntax. Otherwise, they may introduce mistakes or false cognates into a translation, which is common with reviewers who are not word professionals.
A good translation process goes through checkpoints to ensure:
- Proper use of grammar, spelling and punctuation
- Appropriate capitalization (make sure the criterion applied is consistent throughout the text)
- Correct use of acronyms
- Review of units of measure, dates and numbers, as well as proper names
- Consistency with reference materials and glossaries
- Completeness of the translation (make sure nothing has been omitted)
- Exclusion of awkward or literal translations
- Fitting style and tone that reflect the client’s specific target audience
- Proper use of regional dialects and cross-cultural references, idioms and colloquialisms
- Proper formatting and layout
Read our Guide to Great Content and Translations for Nonprofits for more tips and ideas.