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Mar 2023 3 min read

7 Rules to Avoid Translation Mistakes

Avoid Translation Mistakes

Traveling throughout China on a Fulbright Scholarship, University of Maryland professor Dr. Doris MacKenzie found herself in need of translation. Without a thought she naturally turned to her bilingual research associate to translate the documents. What could go wrong?

Fully bilingual people inexperienced with translation usually make one of two mistakes, either translating the content literally and missing the more nuanced meaning of the message (also called a “direct” or “word-for-word” translation) or (inadvertently, unconsciously, or perhaps intentionally) changing the meaning of the original document to better suit their own agenda.

The Golden Rule of Translation

It’s easy to see how a literal translation can sometimes just miss the mark – we often talk about the Staples marketing campaign that tried to “Make Refrigerator Art” happen. The term is nonsensical to most cultures outside of the US – refrigerators are generally smaller and incidental to a household – and only a skilled translator would know how to instead evoke that refrigerator art feeling of joy, pride, and whimsy. Read more in our blog about Translations Gone Bad – Research Before Exporting.

In Dr. MacKenzie’s story, she next asked another Chinese-speaking associate to back translate the translated Chinese back into English to ascertain the quality of the translation. Back translating is a bit like playing the children's game “Telephone” or “Whisper Down the Alley,” wherein a message is relayed from child to child, inevitably resulting in a completely different meaning at game’s end. Dr. MacKenzie’s case was no different: the back translation clearly illuminated that the translation really did not match the English, at all. Read more in our blog about Back Translation and Other Quality Assurance Processes.

Which brings us to THE GOLDEN RULE, RULE #1 on our list:

ALWAYS START WITH A HIGH-QUALITY, SKILLED TRANSLATOR

Our clients often come to us after an experience like Dr. MacKenzie’s, so the “always start with” part has become an essential part of our mantra. The translation agency confirmed the liberal translation and when asked, the original associate admitted to making it “more appropriate for the Chinese culture.”

Foreign language translation service

 

AI-driven translation debuted in early 2023. Read about its early benefits and dangers, and the future of the technology within the industry, here: AI and Language Services: Will AI Translation Eliminate the Need for Human Translators?

More Translation Rules and DOs

No matter your industry – biotech and healthcare, education, international marketinglegal, HR, finance – following these 7 simple rules virtually guarantees a precise, culturally appropriate translation.

RULE #2 - START TRANSLATION PROJECTS WITH AMPLE TIME

Many don’t realize that translation takes as much time as writing. As a general rule, budget for the translation of approximately 1,000 words per day, plus 2-3 days for project management. This guarantees quality work and thorough review, and a high-quality translation agency will assign the same translators to your projects over time, ensuring consistency of voice. Also called “linguistic matchmaking,” doing so works to solidify the translator/client relationship; the increased familiarity ends up saving time and maximizing budgets on future projects.

RULE #3: COORDINATE TRANSLATION PROJECTS ACROSS ALL DEPARTMENTS AND ASSETS

Accounting for translation needs and requirements across departments ensures buy-in, drives sales, and aligns the project with your corporate agenda. Branding and messaging remain consistent no matter the asset and eases the process of prioritizing the content to be translated.

RULE #4: MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE FOR QUESTIONS

Your participation keeps the project moving and the translation accurate. Translators will sometimes need clarification on the meaning or intent of the original content. They may also offer multiple word choice and messaging options for content essential to your company – branding, marketing taglines, or advertising slogans, for example. Your prompt review and feedback are essential to keeping projects on schedule.

RULE #5: HIRE ANOTHER TRAINED TRANSLATOR TO EDIT THE TRANSLATION

Translation is like writing, two sets of good eyes on the project are better than one. To ensure quality, a thorough translation service will provide this service for a nominal fee, and the two translators work closely to determine the most precise, best translation.

Will AI translation eliminate the need for  human translators?

RULE #6: ESTABLISH A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR TRANSLATION AGENCY

Sticking with a single translation agency means consistency of quality as well as style and branding. A translation services agency acts as a true partner more than any other vendor; the process of translation, you will find, is inherently more personal than other business processes. Over time, a high-quality translation agency will even be able to anticipate your needs.

In addition, future projects become far less daunting – for example, if you ever make changes to an already completed translation, high-quality translators and agencies will have archives of all projects as tracking edits on the original source document can greatly reduce translation expenses.

key to success-1

RULE #7: JUST DO IT!

Our most successful clients can tell you their origin story, the ups and downs of getting started. It’s a tale as old as time – hero conquers fear and lives happily ever after….

Read more in our Essential Guide to Translating Marketing Materials.

 

Our intrepid Dr. MacKenzie went on to become an international expert in her field, thanks in part to her respect for high-quality translation. Wherever you are in the process – thinking about translation, looking for a quality agency, or already underway with your effort – keeping these 7 rules always in mind will ensure high-quality results. And if you simply don’t know where to start, just contact us for a free consult!

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate. We use the right voice and the correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. With our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right. Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote.

Have questions? Contact Us 

Rapport International specializes in multilingual communications, providing language translation and interpretation services that are accurate and culturally appropriate. We use the right voice and the correct terminology to avoid liability, customize services to your needs, and deliver on time and within your budget. With our 100% satisfaction guarantee, you can trust that it’s done right. Contact us today if you would like more information or to get a free quote.

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