Translation Myth-Busting: Top 10 Misconceptions About Translation (Part 1)

translation myths

If what you don’t know can hurt you, what you think you know can do even more damage. In part one of this two-part series, we’ll put to rest five of the top ten translation myths.

Myth #1: “The Internet has made quality translation fast and cheap.”

See also: “It’s only two pages, you should be able to do this in an hour, right?” If you’re willing to gamble your brand’s voice in the virtual hands of algorithms, the price of translation can be next to nothing and the result can be obtained in a few casual clicks. The real cost might be your reputation, though. For a little more, you can take your chances with a crowdsourced translation, but it’s entirely possible your translators will be students learning the language. Ask yourself: Do you want your website, app, or sales materials to be someone’s homework? The gold standard for high-value translation remains highly-qualified human linguists, professionally trained in not only the language but the project’s subject matter. Quality is the result of expertise and rigorous selection for the project at hand.

Myth #2: “We don’t need to be involved in the translation process.”

Most successful translation projects involve an iterative process. While your translation agency can do a lot of the work for you, you’ll get a far better result if you educate them on your key objectives, brand voice and positioning. Providing your translation team with the same sorts of materials you use to brief other creative and business partners can enhance the quality of your translation as it helps translators understand your business better. Moreover, your involvement in the translation process can help ensure your translation team is working on the most up-to-date versions of your content. In some marketing projects, the best messaging is the result of transcreation, a process of linguistic and cultural translation of creative content tailored for the nuances of your target languages. Translation is much more of a partnership than an outsourced relationship.

Myth #3: “We can just reuse our previous (French / Spanish / Chinese) translation.”

Are Canadian French and Moroccan French the same? Which dialect of Chinese are we talking about here? Do those Spanish voiceovers for Mexico City really sound right in Madrid? Does Brazilian Portuguese get the job done in Portugal? There are some pretty wide variances in these languages across borders, and your customers may not understand you if you use language that was translated for a different locale. A helpful parallel is the British market — UK English is vastly different from American English, both in written and spoken form. Though British customers can understand U.S. English, they’d much prefer to be marketed to in the local language from their side of the “pond.” If you don’t take steps to cater to customers’ language preferences, not only do you risk failing to communicate — you might go so far as to offend people with your first impression.

Myth #4: “Any native speaker will do for our translation project.”

Proficiency in speaking a language is not the same as proficiency in translation. For marketing translation, your translator needs to be a capable if not talented writer in your target language. What’s more, if your project contains technical information or jargon to a specific industry, you’ll want to work with a translator who has subject matter expertise in your field. Linguists with a degree in translation have the education, training and experience to give your copy the same voice in your target languages — and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Myth #5: “Why do we need a final review? Aren’t your translations good?”

The review process is critical, even when a two-step translation and editing process has been put in place for your project. A well-organized in-context review provides reviewers with a schedule, the review goals, background materials (style guides and glossaries… more on that in Part 2), feedback guidelines, and a channel to communicate with the linguists. Additionally, in-country reviews are ideal for testing your translation in “field conditions” and catching irregularities that may have been overlooked by translators.

Five down, five to go. Have any of these myths surfaced in meetings about your own translation project? Stay tuned for part two, in which we’ll debunk more business-killing myths of translation and hopefully set your business on the right path for a successful international launch.

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Smart, fun and useful. Acclaro shares news and tips on translation, localization, language, global business and culture.


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