How to Avoid Translation Mishaps

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globeIn today’s global marketplace, business owners must ensure that their publications are readable by all their intended audiences. And while many businesspeople around the world do speak English, they may not speak American English or understand American English language usages. So, translation and localization are often key to the success of published documents.

What’s the difference between translation and localization? Translation is simply the act of converting one standard language into another standard language. Localization occurs when language professionals translate the source document’s words and adapt its content to the needs and norms of the target country or market—sort of like translating intended meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words. But before they can translate or localize anything, a technical writer must provide good starting documentation.

If I’m translating or localizing a document, why do I need a professional writer?

Basically, a technical writer will help you save money throughout the translation and localization process. Since language experts who translate or localize information are only as good as the source documents they receive, those source documents should be generated by skilled technical writers. The technical writers will create documents using fewer words—eliminating redundancies, ambiguities, stacked nouns, and jargon/colloquialisms. In essence, they’ll deliver fewer, more accurate words, than a non-skilled writer may deliver. Additionally, technical writers understand document design and how to use visual elements to supplement content and meaning. If they deliver the same message via images, rather than text, translation and localization costs are reduced. Most graphics have little, if any, translation requirements, and text produced by a skilled writer will require fewer reviews and iterations before publication. Viola: Time and money saved!

If I don’t have a technical writer, what can I do?

If your budget simply can’t stretch to include both a technical writer and a language services consultant, engage your language consultant early on in the development process. Language professionals can help you throughout the writing process to identify missteps as you go. They can proactively identify solutions and suggest approaches to save you money while improving results. Additionally, you can follow the tips below. If you do, you can create documentation that is easier for language professionals to work with.

Tip 1: Use what’s universal

When you can, use words, and especially symbols, with universal meaning. These don’t have to be translated or localized. Additionally, consider what’s most widely accepted. For example, the United States doesn’t use the Metric System for measurements, but the rest of the world does. Take the time to convert U.S. measurements to metric units so that a translator doesn’t have to. Also, consider the way your intended audience reads dates. In the U.S., we prefer month/day/year dates; in Europe, the standard is day/month/year.

Tip 2: Use what’s simple

Brevity is the key. Where you can

  • Use one word instead of several
  • Eliminate phrases that contribute no meaning
  • Use the most direct (usually shortest) version of a word or phrase—consider use rather than utilize and conclude rather than reach a conclusion
  • Avoid passive voice
  • Avoid jargon or colloquial expressions
  • Avoid all caps for emphasis. Some languages use all caps for specific purposes, so your intention will literally be lost in translation.
  • Use words with one (or few) meanings. Words like make, have, and need are particularly difficult to translate because they have so many possible uses.
  • Write in complete sentences with all the articles

Beyond these writing tips, plan ahead. Use software applications that support the languages you’ll require, and if you plan to print your documents, use software applications that support the printing specifications for each intended location (paper size, print size and direction, etc.). You’ll also want to account for text expansion; Romantic languages are usually longer (by up to 50%) and Asian languages tend to be shorter since characters can represent multiple words. So, keep your text and graphics separate, and account for the additional space your text may require.