Lost in translation? Five top tips for breaking the language barrier

Language translation requires so much more than word-for-word regurgitation. Done well and with the right approach and execution, good language translation will be as effective and engaging in the target language as in the source language. Check out some of these top tips for language translation to help you get it right for your customers.

1. Beware of machine translations

Language translation:  pas de problème! Just pop your text into an automatic machine translation, right? Well, no. With budgets tight, it may seem tempting to use a machine translation to save money and time, but it will invariably offer a translation fraught with errors and one that could potentially do more harm than good. Automatic machine translations can't think for themselves and don't understand the nuances of language and so often get it very wrong.

By offering a less than perfect translation to your customers, you are in effect saying that they are not very important to you and that their need to understand your text is insignificant. This could mean a big knock to your organisation's reputation.

2. Be careful with colloquial expressions and puns

When translating, it is important to maintain the same style and level of writing as in the source language. Take particular care with colloquial expressions, puns and metaphors. If they are translated word for word they will make little sense, therefore it is best to translate the overall meaning, which is where a professional translator over a machine translation will definitely come in handy.

3. Choose professional language translation services carefully

In order to ensure the quality of your language translation, for most organisations, the best option is to use a language translation agency. Make sure you choose one that employs human (not machine!) translators who translate into their mother tongue and still have close connections with their birth country, so that they understand and can use current and colloquial language.

In addition, make sure that all documents are proof-read (ideally by a second translator) before they are sent to you as mistakes tend to be more common in translated documents. Finally, if the area you work in is specialist or technical, make sure that the translator you use is also an industry expert.

4. Beware of expansion and contraction factors

When translating into other languages from English there is often an increase or decrease in the word count, known as the 'expansion factor' or 'contraction factor'. For example, when translating from English to Russian the word count increase is roughly 30%. Conversely, many Asian languages use scripts that require less space than English.

This means that when you are translating a document, brochure, website or any other material into a new language, be prepared for the fact that it may become considerably longer or significantly shorter.

Also, be sure to check how your language translation agency charges for their services and whether they base their fees on the source or target language as this can make quite a big difference.

5. Take into legal and cultural differences

It is important to take note of legal, cultural or religious differences when translating into another language so that you don't produce illegal or offensive text unwittingly. For example, Chinese Advertising Law prohibits any advertising from using the words 'the highest level', 'the best' or 'state-level'.  So when translating into Chinese, you must pay special attention not to produce illegal text.

This post was written by Ed Langley on behalf of Codex Global Ltd. Find out more about language translation on the Codex Global website.

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