How To Get More Out Of Your Translation Pieces
Translating words from one language to another, in such a way that reads well and captures the original message as closely as possible, requires a lot of skill. In order to guarantee the very best outcome, there are things that both translators and those looking for translators can do.
What you should do for a translator
Languages are incredibly complex and full of nuances in everyday life. Meaning it is probably easier than you might think to bewilder even a fluent speaker of your language, and especially if you use regional slang, ambiguous phrases, or a specific type of humour.
This is important in the world of translating because, without proper care, things can quite literally become “lost in translation”. At worst this will be embarrassing for the translator, but if you have set the translator up to fail, it can be even worse for the message you are getting across.
So it is important that any source text you put together for the translator is of good quality. Ask yourself, is your source content well-written in the first place? It is very important that you get it just the way you want it, and free from ambiguities, before handing it over to the translator. Fortunately, optimising your source text for translation success is not rocket science. Here’s how to do it in eight easy steps:
Keep your sentences short
Actually, you should be doing this all the time, whenever you write. The longer a sentence is, the more likely it is to confuse the reader. You can’t go wrong with nice and short sentences. Like this one.
Use standard grammar
This will really help your translator get familiar with your work. Think: subject, verb and object, with the associated modifiers. Proper punctuation is a must, too. Although translators will let you know about bad grammar and errors, they aren’t really there to spell check. It just wastes time and costs you money.
Use the active voice, rather than the passive
Again, this is generally a desirable quality of writing to have anyway. The active voice is more direct and therefore easier to translate, not to mention the fact that it makes for a more engaging style of writing.
Avoid ambiguous phrasal verbs
Not only are phrasal verbs unnecessarily complicated (why write he “ran into” when you could say he “met” with someone instead), they also don’t exist in many other languages. Using phrasal words will only confuse or slow down the translator. Short, uncomplicated words and phrases make for easier translations.
Put the thesaurus away
It is normal practice to write with varied words in our native languages. For example, referring to an article as a ‘blog’ or a ‘piece’ within a single sentence or paragraph. But for the translator, it is better to find one word and stick with it. This is in general just to avoid confusion, and to let the translation go on as smoothly as possible.
Be wary of measurements
Things like the time of day; how heights, widths, weights are measured; currency; temperatures; how the calendar day is presented — all of these, and more, pose problems for the translator because they are by no means universal across cultures in how they are displayed. So make sure to set them out in such a way as to not cause any confusion.
Humour rarely translates well, so don’t use it
What we find humorous often depends on our cultural surroundings. This means that, in a lot of instances, many humorous sayings also simply do not translate into other languages.
Help them when you can
If your source material is something particularly tricky, technical or in-depth, then it is often recommended that you provide your translator with a subject matter expert. That way, the translator can consult with them if they get stuck trying to decode the more complicated, niche words used in your industry.
Glossaries and style guides can also really help out your translators and help to speed up the translation process if you have them or can put them together.
Make sure your translated copy fits!
In its written form, the English language is often much shorter than other languages. This means that what you write could look significantly bigger after the translation.
So if you are writing where space is limited or likely to be limited (for example, on graphics or posters), keep in mind how much room your copy might actually take up after the conversion process. If in doubt, as a part of our translation services, we can always help you look into this for you, to give you some idea of how much space you will need.
And that’s it!
Following these steps will serve to improve language translation quality, reduce turnaround times, accelerate revenue streams, and cut costs. It’s a win-win.
What you should do as a translator
So the source material is handed over to you, and it’s of good quality — the source writer has made your starting-off point easy and as straightforward as possible. Great! But there is still plenty that you can do for the best results.
Evaluate your work and plan out what to do first
Some of the most important things you can do to ensure an excellent piece of translated work is to set all the groundwork beforehand. This should always be done before even a single word is translated.
It might seem tempting to dive right in, but you will run into problems quickly that way. It is far better to draft an organised checklist that covers the structure and the requirements of all of the tasks at hand first.
A good checklist should cover everything from establishing the file names and directories of everything you need to deliver on, along with spending some time on how to format the content within the files and figuring out how this process should be authorised on the client’s end.
What translating documents isn’t
Translators aren’t really there to proofread source material or check for errors. The provider of the source material should have proofread everything in the first instance.
But the world isn’t perfect, and obviously if there are typos, inconsistencies, or gaps in the text, you will need to report them back and wait for instructions before proceeding any further. This will save time in the long run and ensure a smoother time translating.
Get as much as you can out of the source material and your client
To get the best results out of translation work, it really helps if the client can provide all the necessary reference materials and documents beforehand. Having extra context in the form of these support documents will take a lot of guesswork out of the equation and make the process a lot smoother, so don’t be afraid to ask for them.
One of the most convenient support documents is that of a glossary or style guide, especially if what you are translating is technical (i.e. academic or legal), containing words that you don’t often use in everyday life. Glossaries are also useful if the source material contains a lot of branded names, products, or other words that you aren’t expected to know without any context.
Style guides are useful for helping to establish the tone of the source material as it is translated. In the absence of a style guide, if you are expected to translate something and capture a specific mood along with it, then ask if the client can provide an example of any other work that they have had translated, especially if it is stylistically similar in nature to the text you are about to translate.
If the work you are translating is particularly tricky, then your client should have — or should be able to provide — a subject matter expert for you to consult whenever you stumble into words that are very technical and which you aren’t expected to know. Don’t be afraid to consult with your client about these niche words. After all, if it makes the process smoother, it will only save both you time and money.
Plan to minimise mistakes
All humans make mistakes, but some make more mistakes than others. Oftentimes translators will make mistakes with spelling, punctuation, non-standard grammar and by using imprecise words. But there are systems we can put in place to reduce the amount of mistakes we make:
- Editing — Once you’re satisfied you have completed your first draft, rest your eyes for a while. Unless you are a superhuman, there will almost certainly be mistakes in the copy. So after some cooling off, give your draft a special edit focusing on spelling, punctuation, individual word choices, and by taking special care to study what certain words and phrases actually mean.
- Proofreading — With the editing for specific word meanings and spelling out of the way, now it is time to consider the bigger picture. After another cooling off period, proofread your work to make sure the overall flow and tone runs well. Take in some time to consider the structure of your entire work and how the sentences and paragraphs are grouped together, among other things.
- Get a fresh pair of eyes to proofread for you — It’s easy to become too close to the work and gloss over big mistakes simply because you’ve gotten used to them being there. A fresh pair of eyes should therefore easily detect these otherwise glaring errors. For simpler content, a friend or professional could do the proofreading. But for more technical work a third-party reviewer may be necessary. IF the work is especially technical, an expert in the field might need to be brought in to proofread and ensure maximum accuracy.
Follow these three steps, and you will rapidly reduce the content of errors in your translated text.
Make use of a ‘Translation Management System’
Sometimes the job is as simple as handing back a document to your client in a new language. But in many instances the whole process has plenty of people involved: including subject matter experts, project managers, third-party reviewers and more.
In this case it is worth using a content management system to make file-sharing and communications easier. Sensible use will cut costs, save time, and make the end product better.
Cloud-based programs that everyone can access, and that support all file types such as mobile applications and video, make the whole process easier. Even Google Docs or Sheets can work as a basic translation management system.
Other tips for translators to keep in mind
Here are some other things that are worth thinking about on your quest to becoming a great translator.
This is an important consideration that not a lot of translators do. Basically, it involves putting yourself in the shoes of your client’s target audience and their specific location, and writing in a way that really resonates with the local culture.
Writing in a ‘localised’ style means being particularly acute and sensitive to religious and cultural norms and expectations. This can also give your writing a quality that will often sink the competition — and impress your client.
Localisation extends to images as well. So as with the words, be mindful of any images you include, making sure that they reaffirm the localising work you’re doing.
A word of warning, localisation is a great skill that not many people have, and really helps to show that you are a dedicated translator, but if you do not get it entirely right, you could risk offending your client’s target audience. If there’s any doubt, it is probably better not to take the risk.
Watch your language
No, not that. What we mean is — language changes, fast. For example, you can see here just how many new words have been added to the Oxford dictionary since January alone. If you aren’t regularly taking the time to keep up with changes — including acronyms, newly coined or popular words and so on — your end product could lose some of its lustre when compared to that of the competition.
Flavour your writing, sensibly of course
If you’re writing the same or similar things all of the time, then the job can get a little stale. There is no harm in switching things up to keep it all a little more interesting by playing around with synonyms.
Sometimes, playing around can even help you to find a synonym that is just right. Allowing you to stay true to the original meaning of the text, while at the same time enhancing the quality of the translation.
Brush up on your typing skills
Not a lot of people know how to type properly, using all of their fingers on the appropriate keys, but you should. Learning how to type — without having to look at the screen and with every finger at work — will not only make your work smoother, it will free up your mind so you will be able to concentrate on the art of translating even more.
No matter how good you think you are at translating documents or words into another language, there is always room for improvement. Constantly working to increase your ability will not only put your services in higher demand (making you more money in the process), it will make the job more rewarding and satisfying to do.
Translating articles takes a lot of care and skill. It works out better for everyone if the right research and the proper precautions are carried out beforehand. That means both for the providers of the source material, and the translators involved.
Follow these guidelines and not only will the quality shine through in the finished product, you will have saved both time and money as a result.