Every now and then, it is good for us translators to walk in the shoes of our clients and see what their internal struggles are when it comes to translating content for foreign-language markets. In that spirit, I recently joined a webinar by the American Marketing Association on how to make translation projects more efficient for companies operating on an international level.
The webinar addressed what companies can do on their side to ensure their translation projects deliver on three fronts: cost effectiveness, quality and time expenditure. Being a translator, I was already familiar with the information that was being presented. However, I realized during the webinar that for many translation buyers, these tips were not at all obvious. Therefore, I decided to sum up the key aspects here, adding a little bit of my own insight as well.
1. Why should you translate your content into another language?
Did you realize that a relatively small up-front investment can help you significantly increase your customer base for years to come? Consider this finding from a 2014 study by the research firm Common Sense Advisory: 75% of consumers in non-Anglophone countries in Europe, Asia and South America prefer to buy products in their native language.
By translating your website and other marketing materials such as your brochures, newsletters or blog contents, you can significantly increase your chances of being found by these potential customers. Moreover, 90% of the world’s online spending power is reached through just 13 languages: English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Swedish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Arabic and Korean.
2. Be ahead of the competition, but don’t rush the translation process
When you’re trying to tap into the global market, speed is key. Reaching a foreign market before your competitors is critical for success. But that doesn’t mean you should rush to get your content translated at the expense of quality. You don’t just want to transfer your content into another language, you want it to speak to the foreign audience. Therefore, you need a translator with copywriting experience who will spend the time to get familiar with your brand, research your products, and then adapt your content for the target market.
When it comes to translating slogans or highly branded marketing content, a skilled translator with experience in the field will apply a process called “transcreation,” which means not only translating words from one language into another but making the content relevant to its target audience by keeping cultural differences in mind. Look for a translator who is specialized in marketing and establish a close working relationship. The translator will, in effect, become part of your team as well as your brand.
3. Don’t ask your bilingual staff to translate
The desire to be efficient is understandable. However, translation is an art and a science, a learned skill that professional linguists hone over many years. Having your secretary who spent a year abroad in high school translate your marketing materials is a recipe for disaster. Professional translators continuously spend time on developing their expertise and technique, they attend conferences and professional development workshops, and many of them are highly specialized in their field. Saving on the translation side can actually end up costing you in the long term. A bad translation, at best, may end up being funny, but at worst, it can be embarrassing and damaging to your brand image.
However, your bilingual staff may be a valuable resource in other ways. Bilingual employees in your target country may help when it comes to defining terminology, creating style guides, or reviewing the final translation. By allowing them to work directly with the translator, you can take advantage of their foreign language skills and increase the efficiency of your internal translation processes.
4. Look at your content
Translators are not miracle workers. They cannot – or should not need to – make your translated content better than the original text. Translators work with what you give them. If your source text is inconsistent, incoherent or not relevant to your target market, the translator will not fix those issues (unless you hire a translator who also specializes in copywriting, and improvements to your text are discussed in advance).
A good translation starts with good source material. Make sure your terminology is consistent throughout your marketing materials. The same items or concepts should be referred to by the same name or phrase in all instances. Needless to say, slogans must be 100% identical wherever they appear. But even the little things, such as whether to use “Email” or “email” or “e-mail” in your texts, need to be taken into consideration. Preparing a style guide and glossary for and/or with the translator ahead of the translation process will ensure less review cycles and revisions later on, which will save time and money.
5. Establish a workflow and a plan
Before you begin with the actual translation process, you need to look at the entire picture. How will you ensure consistency in your global marketing efforts, both now and in the future? Will your business use multiple translation resources or hire just one translator? Who will be responsible for the review process and approval before delivery? How will you handle future updates to your content that need to be translated – do you have a process for easily identifying changes for the translator? Thinking about these questions beforehand and having a plan in place will prevent headaches and last-minute scrambling later on.
6. Provide context for translators
In German, the word “home” can be translated into “daheim,” “nach Hause,” “Startseite,” “Heim,” “Haus,” “Heimat,” “Wohnort”… you get the picture. A translator working off a spreadsheet listing only words without context cannot possibly provide you with an accurate translation. In order to pick the right term and prevent embarrassing mistakes, a translator needs to know the context and see what the customer sees. Ideally, you should provide a visual translation interface for the translator to work with, e.g. the website layout, a PowerPoint presentation or a PDF of your brochure. Allow your translator to see exactly how the content is going to be presented to your customers in the end.
7. Review often and early
If possible, review a translation sample by the translator early on. This allows you to spot potential problems and identify any issues that may need to be addressed. Implementing changes is much easier early in the translation process than once the translator has finished the entire project. Also, if you notice that the quality of the translator’s work is not up to your standards, you can still find an alternative without losing a fortune by having to have your content re-translated or extensively revised.
Here’s an example from my own experience. I once was hired to review a website translation for an online travel agency. The initial translator or translators had apparently not paid much attention to consistency in terminology, and the overall quality was seriously lacking. The content sounded, well, translated – and badly at that. I was tasked with revising all content, which ended up being more costly than if I had translated it to begin with.
8. Last but not least: A note about translation memory
A quick survey of attendees during the webinar showed that outside of the translation industry, many people, including those working in international marketing departments, don’t know what a translation memory is or how it is used. I once told a client I would translate his web content using a translation memory solution to ensure consistency, and he told me he didn’t want me to use any software to translate their content. In his mind, he was picturing automated translation along the lines of Google translate. Not so.
A translation memory, or TM, is a database of sentences that have already been translated and approved – by a human being. Let’s say your web content repeats itself on some pages, or your product descriptions only have minor variations in some instances (e.g. “This red coat is both comfortable and stylish” vs. “This blue coat is both comfortable and stylish”). For the sake of consistency, you would want to ensure the use of similar wording in the foreign language as well. And of course, marketing slogans and tag lines should always be translated in the exact same way.
A translation memory allows the translator to use previously approved translations every time a certain sentence occurs throughout the translation project. A TM even works for partial matches such as the coat example above. As the translator works, the TM grows to include more and more sentences. This not only ensures uniformity but also saves time, which, in turn, can lead to reduced translation costs. Moreover, you can include the translation memory in the deliverables from the translator at the end of the project, allowing you to reuse it during later translation projects even if you end up hiring a different translator.