Lost in Translation: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

04/22/13

CComposing text in your own native language is hard enough. Attempting to translate your information into a language you do not speak or understand is virtually impossible without assistance. There is huge potential for serious errors that could potentially embarrass your company or even ruin its chances of succeeding in foreign markets.

Translation services are essential to creating the best impression on customers or clients who speak other languages than your own.  A translation expert will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that often cause linguistic issues.  Here are a few of the most often seen issues that plague companies when they translate text out of their native language.

Slang, colloquialisms and jargon

Certain phrases only make sense in their native language.  Idioms, slang and colloquialisms are particular to a specific language.  They are also frequently specific to a particular group or people or region, making these phrases difficult to translate.

Try to avoid using slang and local sayings in your text.  Pre-edit your text and documents so that they are as clear, concise and simple as possible.   Technical jargon and industry terminology should also be kept to a minimum and used either when no other option is available or the identical phraseology is used internationally.

Dictionary definitions

English speakers have become accustomed to using certain words in ways that the dictionary does not define.  English speakers are not alone in this phenomenon.  For instance, a bullet train is a well-known term for a fast-moving train but a word by word translation would make little sense in another language.

Don’t rely too heavily on dictionary definitions when translating.  The simplest or most commonly understood terminology might not be exactly what a direct translation would suggest.

Automation isn’t perfect

Machine translation and free services are fast and economical, but they are still far from perfect.  While you might be able to convert individual words or phrases with a free app or website, you won’t likely get clear and accurate translation over larger passages of text.  Consider finding the right post-editor or translator to do the job.

Use native speakers

Finding the right translator or post-editor is important.  In almost every case, a native speaker is the best choice.  Find a translator who is a native speaker of the language into which you want your text translated.  Native speakers will have the best feel for the nuances, phrasing and word choice of the language. 

A native speaker should also be able to save your company from potential embarrassment.  Should your company or product name have another meaning or connotation in another language, a native speaker will be able to spot the issue quickly.

Examine your URL

Before purchasing your URL and making it public, have a translator take a look at it.  Write it out as it will be seen in the browser’s bar, without spaces and with the domain suffix (.com or .net, for example) attached.  The name might be fine in a sentence when viewed as separate words.  However, once condensed into a string of uninterrupted letters, it may visually form other, less expected and unintended words.  The Internet is full of examples of this phenomenon and some have become popular memes.

Using a professional translation service will help you avoid some of these potential publicity disasters.  Keep your text free of slang and edit it well and your translation service should be able to deliver your message effectively into another language.