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Lost and Found in Translation

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on July 27, 2010

These days, a growing number of small businesses translate material into other languages for global consumers. New technologies streamline the process in many ways. Still, it seems to me that people think having versions "translated" for other cultures is something like hitting the "send" button on an e-mail message: quick and simple. As president and co-founder of the world’s largest privately owned translation company, I’ve found that the translation or localization of creative material is far more complex: It can support, enhance, or sabotage the most brilliant campaign. Obviously, you want to get it right.

Here are some tips for taking advantage of the best translation practices.

1. Adapt creative copy. "When it pours, you reign" is an ad headline that was used for a beverage that features a crown in its logo. A team of translators and copywriters worked together to recreate an equivalent version in each language. If the words "reign" and "rain" don’t have equivalents in another language, you could end up with a translation that says something like: "When it pours, you are the monarch." Accurate? Indeed. Effective? Not likely. Puns, humor, and references to local events need to be adapted by professionals who are trained to stray from the original copy—something traditional translators would never do.

2. Research concepts. It’s critical to remember that the copy is just one element to consider when adapting material for other cultures. One agency came to us with a brochure for a financial services client. It featured photos from the world’s leading financial centers. They were dramatic and effective. Once we’d researched them, we discovered one of the photos featured a bridge that was considered a symbol of political corruption: It was referred to locally as "the bridge to nowhere." Armed with this feedback, the agency’s creative team selected a new image that had no negative associations.

3. Spend wisely. Translation technology can meet a growing set of needs. Consider the benefits of investing in your own glossary management tools if you are translating materials frequently. The value of consistency these tools offer cannot be overstated when you’re managing a brand, and the real cost savings they offer is realized in the short and long term.

How you communicate with your clients is critical to your success in the global marketplace. Whenever you need to translate company materials, find the solution that will yield the best results for you—then hit the send button.

Elizabeth Elting
Co-founder and CEO
New York

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