Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Don’t be too creative…

Trying to be creative when writing copy that may be translated? When in doubt, leave it out.
So many times over the years we have received copy written in English that can in no way, or no easy way, be localized into other languages for in country use. For example, the source may contain:
  • catch phrases or colloquialisms
  • sayings or adages
  • slang or jargon
  • rhyming words
  • sport analogies
  • abbreviations
  • certain tag lines or company specific acronyms
These things are not easily translated into other languages and may not make sense in another culture. Not all languages use the same manner of speaking or have the same type of phrasing.
For example, in the past I had a client that wanted a marketing brochure translated into various European languages for a product they sell. The whole ad was based around baseball terminology, “rounding home”, “hitting a home run”, etc. Unfortunately we had to break it to them that it was almost impossible to use and to translate for Europe as they don't play even play baseball. So “hitting a home run” would really not have the same impact. The whole ad would have had to have been written around soccer, since that’s their most popular sport, and it could have been written to have the same impact. But unfortunately, the source copy was already written.
Translation vendors and the translators cannot take liberties and rewrite a client’s copy. They translate the text to say it in a way the reader will understand in the particular language, but they do not stray from what is written in the source. So the client would have had to revise their copy to provide exactly what they wanted it to say and be translated as such.
However, along with leaving out items such as catch phrases and slang, there are some things that should be added or included to English source when thinking of translating in the future:
  • metric measurements if any English measurements are listed; to include sizes, temperatures, etc.
  • explanations the first time acronyms are listed; especially when they are not standard accepted industry terminology and might be acronyms only your organization uses internally.
  • other conversions, for example, USD for prices and costs
So when writing copy, be sure to write it in a manner that could be easily conveyed in a translation that someone would understand anywhere in the world, without later having to rewrite the entire piece so that it will be understandable.
At Confluent we have seen good and bad marketing and instruction materials over the years. We work with our clients and provide tips along the way to help make the copy effective in any language after it is translated. We also review layout, photos, illustrations and color usage to inform clients of any issues or possible problems that may arise so that the project can run smoothly from the beginning.