Same English, same difference?

When looking at a source text for translation, be it a survey, educational training program or health and safety manual, you may notice some repetitions. If the text has repetitions, especially simple ones, you may think you can reuse a previous translation. English is quite basic in terms of grammar and structure but other languages can be more complex. This post explores some of the reasons why it’s always best to have a linguist check repetitions in your translations rather than trusting the success of your project to luck.

How context affects translation

The context of your repeated text, in relation to the rest of the text, is important to consider when translating to a foreign language. If you were to translate a phrase such as “all of the above” into French, for example, the correct translation would depend on what “above” is referring to. If the text “all of the above” refers to “brands”, which is a feminine word in French, the translation would be “toutes les précédentes” but if it were a French masculine word like “shops”, the translation would be “tous les précédents”.

How audience affects translation

As mentioned, audience is another factor to consider when using repeated text. You may think because the English is identical the translation will be the same but this is often not the case. If, for example, you want to use the same survey for a different audience, you may need to get it checked and, depending on the audience, re-translated.

In English there is only one form of address in the second person: whether singular or plural, aimed at adults or children, the word is always “you”. So you may be forgiven for thinking you could use an existing survey translation for both parents and children in another language but this is often not possible. In French, for example, the formal form of address “vous” would be used for parents and the informal form of address “tu” would be used for children. And it’s not just the word for “you” but also how the verbs are conjugated: “vous jouez” becomes “tu joues” and so on.

If you wanted to tailor the survey to a child’s gender this would also require additional translation as gender affects words like articles, verbs and adjectives in French. You can see why the existing translation you have may not be suitable for another audience once you take into account all of these variables.

French isn’t the only language affected by these issues. The same is also true when translating English into many other Romance and case-based languages.

Whilst it may seem that an existing translation of a particular piece of text can be trusted to be reused in a new document with minor adjustments, it is also true that the smaller the change, the more likely it is to be missed. Making sure your linguist checks for these small but significant differences is vital to the success of your project.

Repeated text at The Language Factory

At The Language Factory, our professional linguists and in-house Project Managers check any repeated text to make sure it’s fit for purpose. If you’d like to learn more about our professional translation and proofreading services give us a call on +44 1727 862722 or fill out our quick quote form below.


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