Advice from The Language Factory translator survey
At The Language Factory our number one company value is to provide excellent client service. For us that includes helping our clients develop source text which is as prepped and ready for translation as it can be, before it even gets to us.
Well-constructed, translation-ready text flows through the translation process quickly. It picks up fewer queries. It has a faster turnaround time, lower costs and most importantly, a precise and meaningful end product which conveys the original meaning, in every language.
For a fresh perspective on constructing optimal source copy, we asked a panel of our leading translators: “What does good source copy look like?”
Here’s what they had to say.
- Overall: write clearly, concisely, with the end-reader in mind
- Content: avoid jargon, local idioms and ambiguity
- Grammar: punctuate, spell check and define the version of ‘you’
- Audience definition: the single most helpful piece of information a client can provide
- Seven common copy guidelines ranked in order of importance
1. Overall: write clearly, concisely, with the end-reader in mind
Before sending files, ask a colleague to review your copy for readability, grammar, spelling and sense.
2. Content: avoid jargon, local idioms and ambiguity
2.1 Consider how understandable your translated text will be to the end user. The plainer the English you use, the easier it will be for your translator to understand and convey it in their language.
Explain country-specific abbreviations, acronyms and jargon within the copy. Care should be taken when using examples which reflect only the experience in the source country. For example, we know BBC, ITV, C4 and SKY in the UK. In French they’re still written as BBC, ITV, C4 and SKY – but will the audience know what they are?
Likewise, in-house terms/special terminology should be explained, particularly if the same word has different meanings in different contexts.
2.2 Avoid ambiguity.
Don’t leave the translator guessing what you mean. If they need to interpret the meaning as well as translate the words, it’ll often result in a query.
2.3 Write neutral sentences without jargon and idiomatic expressions.
Different cultures have different senses of humour so jokes can be hard to translate. If you need to explain a joke, it’s not funny so it’s best avoided in your source copy.
Idioms can cause problems, too, if they include a play on words. The animal-based expression “it’s raining cats and dogs”, in Spanish involves jugs and in French incorporates ropes. The Spanish “ponte las pilas” has the literal translation of “put your batteries on”, but actually means “work hard.”
2.4 Technically unique and culturally sensitive phrases should be explained to the translator in guidance notes or a glossary.
For example, ‘three-pin plugs’ and ‘civil partnerships’ only exist in the UK. Providing approved terminology for this type of phrase is beneficial.
3. Grammar: punctuate, spell check and define the version of ‘you’
3.1 Pay attention to grammar and punctuation. A misplaced comma can make a big difference. “Let’s eat, Grandma” is not the same as “Let’s eat Grandma”.
3.2 Define formality. In English it rarely matters. We have one form of ‘you’, whoever you are. In most languages this is not the case. Multiple versions of ‘you’ exist and using the correct form of personal address matters.
4. Audience definition: the single most helpful piece of information a client can provide
Survey respondents were asked, “If you could request just one piece of additional information from the source-copy writer, what would it be?”
The clear favourite is: a detailed audience definition.
For optimum results, it is important that translations are written in the correct ‘register’ for their intended reader.
Tell your translator who will be reading the translation. Is the text to be conservative (with a small c), formal, trendy-formal or street/youth banter? Gender, socio-economic group and level of education all help to establish the correct style of wording and phraseology.
5. Seven common copy guidelines – ranked in order of importance
Respondents ranked 7 common requirements asked of source-text copy writers in order of importance to a translation task. From the most important (1) to the least important (7) they were:
(1) Keep sentences concise
(2) Be consistent when using a word or phrase to describe an item or concept. For example, to describe a ‘blog’, use ‘blog’ consistently rather than replacing with ‘article’, ‘post’, ‘blog-post’ or ‘page’
(3) Carefully check your copy for spelling and grammar mistakes
(4) Use standard word order (i.e. Subject-Verb-Object), with associated modifiers
(5) Do not use idioms or local phrases
(6) Reduce the use of phrasal verbs. For example, use ‘develop a rash’ rather than ‘break out in a rash’
(7) Use the active tense/voice rather than the passive
At first glance the above may seem daunting. However, small steps and a little time will see you right. Be clear and concise. Explain technical and specialist terminology. Cut back on content which only works in one market. Overall, write content as you would wish to read it and proofread before you send.
If you have business materials in need of translation, don’t hesitate to give us a call for advice and a quote. +44 (0)1727 862722 or email our team at [email protected].
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