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The Art and Science of Translating Financial News

Are you translating the interview of a fund manager or an investment company’s CEO to be published in an Italian newspaper? A blog post on Quantitative Easing? Maybe an article on the impact of the oil price drop on Russian economy?

Then, you must understand the basics of economics and finance. How does an investment fund work? What is the current performance of capital markets in peripheral Europe? What is the role of the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank? Why does the oil price affect global recovery and inflation? To translate financial news, you must learn the basics of macro and microeconomics, GDP, inflation, unemployment, as well as supply and demand, commodities, pricing.

Moreover, you should stay up-to-date, read the news, know what is going on in the world, particularly in capital markets. Which companies are performing well? Is unemployment rate high, and why? Is Europe recovering? Are the United States out of the financial crisis? What is the reaction of central banks, and how can interest rate affect mortgages and credit?

Reading the news in your working languages as a translator, you become aware that the language of financial and economic news is a special language. It is not only informative, but also emotional. Recently, I read headlines such as “Greek Burial for German Austerity” or “Quantitative Easing? Give the people the money instead!”.

My working languages are English and Italian. I can confirm that news in both languages are full of metaphors and other rhetorical devices, such as alliteration in headlines or hyperboles. Metaphors in the financial news are often related to sport, military, health: the “army of small savers”, the “viagra of volatility”, “budget will take a big hit next year” (as if it were a baseball match), “anaemic growth”, “miners in battle of balance sheet”.

Language may be very technical, with new words invented for the purpose, or acronyms such as “GFC” for the global financial crisis, but also emotional, shocking and melodramatic.

Translating the news and financial information may be tricky. First of all, translations are always urgent and normally confidential. There are geopolitical or other critical issues, and confusing revenues with profits may be tragic. Statements may be easily misconstrued and lead to major problems. Sometimes they can lead to misinterpretation of the entire data.

The Web and social media make things even more complicated because you have to capture the reader’s attention in less than 30 seconds, while images are probably more important than words, headlines must arouse the reader’s interest with puns and wordplays that often cannot be translated.

How far can you go with “domestication”? How can you adapt or change expressions with strong cultural connotation?

Certainly, the target (reader) is the key. You must know if your readers are seasoned investors or inexperienced savers. Will the article be published on the Web, or in a niche specialist publication? Should I favour content, information, or sensationalism? Should you prefer understanding or arouse curiosity? Are you talking to individual or institutional investors?

Based on my 20 years’ experience as a translator of financial documents and news, I would suggest these main points:

  1. Understand economics and finance
  2. Stay up-to-date
  3. Read the news, and study their “special” language
  4. Focus on target, and do not forget cultural connotations and sensitivity: who are your readers? Where do they live? What is their cultural and linguistic background? What is their financial knowledge and awareness? Ask as much information as possible.

What is your advice for translating financial news?

If you want to go deeper and discuss these themes with me, leave a comment or join me at my upcoming webinar on translating financial news.