10 ways to get better work from translators

translation-errors-that should-not-happen–how–to–avoid

Photo by James G. Peterson

The translations in the picture above are offensive to pregnant women. But it’s not because of bad translators. The company most likely did not tell their translators (in any language) about the picture of the pregnant woman, so they all thought “disabled” or “handicapped” would be perfectly fine.

A great translation is not due to the translator’s work alone. Companies that prepare detailed briefings and establish a good working relationship get better quality work from their translator.

Here are 10 things you can do to see an immediate improvement in the quality of your outsourced translations.

1. Context, context, context

Let translators know about the world outside the text. Show them where the text will appear, who will read it and what kind of pictures it will accompany.

Rule of thumb: give them the same information you would give to someone writing the text from scratch.

2. Tell your translator about the target audience

Who is the target group for the translated text? How is it different to the original language target group? What changes, omissions or additions to the text could help it speak to the new target group most effectively?

When the two target groups are considerably different, “transcreation” is usually a better choice than straight translation. Learn out more about transcreation in the article “The right message for the right audience”.

3. If there are pictures, provide them

This falls under “context”, but I find it important enough to list it separately. Obviously, it should go without saying that you don’t want someone translating picture captions without providing the pictures. If you don’t, you put yourself at risk of blunders like the one in the picture above.

Apart from captions, pictures can also help to give translators a better understanding of the subject. Think about translating a description of a person without actually seeing what that person looks like.

4. Indicate level of freedom

Let a translator know if you expect the text to be a very precise, fact-driven translation, or a more creative translation (see transcreation article).

5. Provide your corporate style guide

Don’t have one for English? Give your translation provider a copy of your German style guide and ask for an English version. It might take a little back and forth, but in the end you’ll have set a good standard for future translations. Why is corporate language more important than corporate design? Read David’s article „Good design deserves the right tone„.

6. Offer help with subject knowledge and vocabulary

Translators are generalists. Even those translators that specialize are not “real” experts. How many translators of engineering texts have engineering degrees? Probably none. The reason for this should be obvious: you don’t study law, finance or dentistry to become a translator.

Let translators benefit from your expertise. Talk to them about the subject, and tell them some of most the common terms.

If you need a lot of translations, try to set up a glossary with preferred translations of common terms. You can also provide references of good translations and/or monolingual resources in the target language. If you work regularly with a particular translation agency, ask for their support in setting up a glossary.

At steelecht, we did this for Frankfurt Book Fair, and we’re happy to let them use the glossary with other translation partners. Sure, we’re helping the competition, but we’re also improving our relationship with the customer and establishing competence.

7. Create a positive working relationship

Try to establish a good working relationship and plenty of direct communication with translators (i.e. not just the project manager).

If you work with agencies, give preference to ones that permit direct contact between customers and translators (some don’t). Translators should not feel nervous to call or write to clients when they have a question. Be sure to welcome and encourage these questions, because they help make translations better. Read dubsat’s excellent article „Five Steps For Improving Agency Relationships With Service Providers“ for more on the importance of collaboration.

8. Move from “catching mistakes” to growing together

When working with a previous employer, we had a client who would get very upset at even the slightest mistake. She would raise a fuss anytime she found a single word that was in the German text but not in the English – even filler words that normally shouldn’t be translated. She even wanted to know exactly who it was in the company that made this “mistake”.

Ultimately, we grew nervous to communicate with her. In the end, we didn’t focus on delivering the best possible text, but on delivering one that made her happy. Style and tonality suffered greatly as a result.

Approach mistakes as opportunities to learn. They should be communicated, but try to balance that out with positive feedback.

9. Let an English copywriter review the final product

Many poor translations can be easily caught in a simple editing process. It’s best to find a professional writer/editor to do your final edit. Be careful about using some random “native speaker”: not every native speaker is also a good writer.

Note on German designers: we work with a lot of fantastic German web and graphic designers. Due to the fact that they are not native speakers of English, they sometimes make mistakes when copying our text into their design programs. When we’re given the opportunity to review the final product prior to publishing, we almost always find a few small errors.

10. Publish communications directly in English

If you operate internationally, it makes sense to do at least some PR and marketing work directly in English. When the international audience is more important than the local language market, that’s when you really need to consider producing texts directly in English.

This, in turn, can improve German-English translations by providing translators with solid, English-language reference material. Later, if you also get these English texts translated, you’ll have a much easier time judging the quality of translations into your language.

In a nutshell

This all boils down to one thing: communication. A briefing that communicates all your needs, and a good working relationship between you and your translator.

Interested in this approach? Then we’d love to work with you. Contact steelecht for more information: info@steelecht.com

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