Source texts come in all shapes and sizes. They are not always well written and not always intended for translation in the first place. Translators will always do their best, but customers shouldn’t automatically assume that a badly formulated source text can somehow be conjured into a creative and captivating target text. Here are a few tips for customers when they consider having documents and texts translated into another language.
If your source text is primarily targeted at a domestic readership, it will not have the same impact at an international level. Your text may need adapting to reflect the social, cultural and economic nuances of the foreign market. For example, is an English text aimed at British or American audience? Or is it intended for a wider readership which uses English as a second language?
Clarity, brevity and style
Write clearly in your own language. Avoid long sentences. Ask yourself if all the information is relevant. What is the audience? Will it keep the reader’s attention and interest? Get a colleague to check your text for style, clarity, spelling, punctuation, etc. before you even submit it for translation. Finalise your source language text before committing it for translation. Remember, last-minute changes can be expensive.
To get maximum impact, tell the translator exactly what the translation is for. A speech will require different use of language than a product information sheet or news article. A good translator will always adapt the style.
The native-speaker principle
You may pride yourself on how well you can speak a foreign language. But speaking is not writing! Never overestimate your written command of a second language. Resist the temptation to do it yourself. False friends are snakes in the grass! Clumsy use of a foreign language will be a turn-off. If you do decide to do it yourself, always have your text checked carefully by a competent native-speaker, especially if the document is intended for publication.
Translators are resourceful, but remember, they may not always be familiar with your business culture and language. Provide the translator with as much reference material as possible (illustrations, internet links, wordlist, glossaries, list of abbreviations, previous translations, etc.) Use a single contact person who deals with the translator exclusively.
A translation should never be an afterthought, but part of the production chain. It is not simply a mechanical conversion of words into another language. A translation requires time and effort, sometimes more than is initially anticipated. Allow enough time for questions and feedback before the translation can be finalised.
Is your text intended for publication or print? Remember that the length of a translated text may vary in length to the original source text. This is an important aspect in situations where space may be restricted.
And, of course, last but not least …
By now, this should be abundantly clear but resist the urge at all costs to use Google Translate and other automatic machine translation tools!