12 tips to improve your multilingual content
Over the past few years, the volume of content produced and translated has dramatically increased, especially online. This is specifically true for the business and financial industry. Just think of all the comments written on Brexit, Trump and the US Election, and central bank policies in 2016. Almost every global asset management company has a blog, or an insights and research section in various languages on the website.
Commentaries and articles are written both by English natives and by professionals using English as a second language and lingua franca.
More often than not, authors seem to forget that their documents will serve as a base for content in other languages, and that they will be translated. Professional specialised translators do their best to convey the right message in the target language, though a quality translation depends also on how well the original text is written. A document full of spelling mistakes and cultural connotations, without structure or with ambiguous expressions does not help the translation and communication process. On the contrary, a well-written piece will convince your audience, increase conversions, and it may help avoiding litigation and costly mistakes. Moreover, you will not waste time and money with revisions, reduce turnaround time, as well as the chance of misunderstandings.
So, why not thinking global from the start, planning ahead and writing with your international reader in mind?
How to improve the quality of the source text
I translate many blog posts on market outlook, fund performance and the asset management industry into Italian. Some are very well written and easy to read, while others contain spelling mistakes, vague concepts and strong cultural connotations.
Easier to read means easier to translate. In simple terms, authors should simplify their English.
Here is a short checklist that may help polishing a text before sending it to translation:
- Be clear and simple. Avoid too many repetitions and keep sentences short and clear. The worst enemy of translation is ambiguity. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations. The active voice is easier to understand and to translate. The same goes for concrete concepts instead of abstractions.
- Be consistent. Being consistent in the original text helps consistency in the translation. Professional translators can help to draft style guides and glossaries.
- Think of your audience. To communicate the strategy of an investment fund to retail investors, you will not use too technical terms, which will be perfect for sophisticated investors. Steven Pinker suggested avoiding academese, legalese, professionalese…”all the eses that make one want to throw a book, paper, or article in the trash rather than finish it”.
Warren Buffett famously said: “When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters… They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them”
- Avoid cultural connotations and colloquialisms. Idioms and icons are not universal. Even the meaning of colours varies from one culture to another, e.g. white is associated with weddings and purity in the West, while it is associated with death in Asian cultures. One of my clients liked comparisons between financial concepts and baseball that an Italian reader cannot understand.
- Beware of humour. Authors like to be witty. However, expressions that are not universally understood do not translate, or they may sound awkward.
- Proofread your text. As a professional translator, I receive many documents with spelling mistakes that may cause misunderstandings or, in the best cases, slow the translation process [Top Secrets of Effective Proofreading].
- Consider space in your layout. Translating from English into Italian, I know that the Italian version will be longer than the English 90% of the times. Many languages expand when translated from English. It may be useful to allow 30% additional space in the final layout. The order of words is different in different languages, and things get complicated when translators are asked to keep a maximum number of words or a structure similar to the original because of layout.
How to Improve the Translation Process
- Write well with your global audience in mind. Professional translators can tailor messages to a foreign audience, though it gets more difficult and longer to translate a text full of untranslatable jargon and metaphors. Ambiguous phrases can cause confusion and mistakes.
- Provide extra information and a style guide. A style guide may help, with a link to your company’s website and information on the target audience and destination market [7 tips for clients to get a translation that works].
- Reply to questions. How many times have you answered your translator “leave it as it is, we will check it later”? Professional translators ask questions because translation is not an exact science, you cannot translate word-by-word, you must understand and reproduce the meaning in another language. If a professional specialised translator needs to read your sentence several times to understand it, chances increase that it is not clear and to the point.
- Trust your (professional) translator. Once a client asked me if I was sure about a financial term, because he checked my translation in Google translate and it was different!?! Sometimes, I find my translation on the web corrected in the wrong way, for example 1,2 corrected into 1.2 (which is right in English, though wrong in Italian). If you are not convinced of a translation, just ask. You may find another solution with your translator, or discover it is perfectly right in the target language.
- Give feedback. How many times have you said “I do not have time to give feedback to my translator, I will change it myself, and that’s it”? Feedback is precious for professional translators, it helps improving and avoiding to repeat a mistake or a misunderstanding. You may save time in the short-term, but changing the same expressions again and again will be time consuming for you in the long run.
Just keep the lines of communication open! Everybody will benefit from good communication.
How well written is your content? Do you use style guides? Do you help your translators providing information, context and feedback?
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The translation process