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Is your writing going to be translated?

If your client has customers in more than one country, the chances are your writing is going to be translated at some point. Depending on your client’s needs, translation can become quite an expensive and complicated process.

However, as a writer, there are things you can do to make that process easier and your client happier.

I’ve spent the last seven years of my life working in the e-learning industry. In that time, I’ve written a lot of content that has been translated and I’ve picked up some helpful tricks along the way. I thought I’d share a few with you here.

Translating the brief

During your briefing conversations, ask your client if they are planning to translate the content you write. Are they planning to sell to audiences in different countries?

Will they be producing content for UK audiences who speak different languages? Armed with that information up front, you can make decisions about the words you choose with translation already in mind.

Types of translation

There’s more than one way to translate a piece of text. As a copywriter, you don’t need to know all of the ins and outs of translation methods. However, a little knowledge can go a long way.

Typically, the more your client spends on translation, the higher quality it will be. I know I’m stating the obvious there. But not every piece of content needs super high quality, expensive translation.

If your client chooses one of the less expensive translation methods, you’ll need to think a bit more about how easily your words, phrases and ideas translate.

Things to consider

Alliteration

Alliteration makes sentences sound so satisfying. However, if your content is going to be translated, all of those sensational sounds will only be there in the English version.

Once your work has been translated, all of that effort could be lost. It could also unintentionally create an inconsistent brand experience between customers who speak English and those who speak other languages.

Idioms

Those little sayings can be a shortcut to a more informal tone and a way to speak to readers on their level. But they don’t always make sense after translation. The translation could be technically correct but it doesn’t really mean the same thing.

Your client’s “off-the-shelf” solution could become their “from the food cupboard” solution. Letting someone off the hook or picking their brains could be really baffling.

Mnemonics

A mnemonic can be a really effective way to remember information. The Act FAST campaign is a really good example. As well as using mnemonics to tell people how to identify the symptoms of a stroke, it spells out a word which fits with the call to action.

However, it might not work quite as well in different languages. Another example of this is SMART goals. Are they really that smart after translation?

Rhymes and rhythm

These are similar to alliteration. Your English version might sound great but those rhythms and rhymes won’t translate.

Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story. A story can stir emotions and make content more memorable. Stories are also enjoyable to write. When you’re using storytelling techniques, think about the themes, characters, framing and references.

How universally appealing is your story? Will it resonate with and make sense to people on the other side of the world?

Wordplay

One of the things I love most about being a writer is playing around with words. Wordplay is fun to write and fun to read. Puns, spoonerisms and double entendres can all add personality, wit and humour to a piece of text.

However, the ambiguity and hidden meanings that wordplay often relies on can make them difficult to translate. Computers are often used to assist with translations. It definitely won’t get the joke.

Creativity killer?

Having read all of that, it might feel like the prospect of having your content translated is going to rob you of your creativity, make your writing dull and take away your flair. It doesn’t need to.

Pixar adapts its films to appeal to different audiences around the world. For example, there’s a scene in Inside Out where the main character’s dad is trying to persuade her to eat broccoli. In Japan, it’s more common for children to dislike peppers than broccoli.

So in the Japanese version of the film, the main character’s dad is trying to persuade her to eat a pepper instead. So stories, themes, ideas and everything else I’ve mentioned can all be adapted. It’s not the end of the world if you want to use an idiom or two.

However, the more your writing needs to be adapted, the more it’ll cost for your client to create a translated version that maintains the same level of quality as your English version. They might not be able or willing to do that.

Rather than being a creativity killer, writing for translation can be a creative challenge. Like a haiku, the constraints force you to think a little differently.

How creative can you be within those constraints? Challenge accepted?

Comments

11th April 2019

Masscv

Great article! Thanks for posting this useful info.Your writing can’t be translated to other languages automatically. In any case, adjustments are needed.

PRO
14th April 2019

Claudia Benetello

When marketing and advertising copy is to be used in different markets, it requires a service that’s halfway between translation and copywriting – it’s called transcreation.
There may be cases where the original copy *can* be rendered closely in a way that sounds natural in the foreign language, but more often than not it must be *re-created* so that it truly resonates with the target language and culture.

18th April 2019

Kim Edwards Buarque

Thank you for a great article Clare!
I’m both a copywriter and translator, and much of my work blends into the “transcreation” that Clauida mentioned above.

As a copywriter I have to admit that I have never considered adapting my words for the benefit of the translation process. As a translator/transcreator, I actually love the challenge of transforming the plays on words, idioms and context to suit the target culture.

While some clients admittedly spend too little on translation and end up with text that doesn’t hit the right note, there are skilled translators out there who can do a sterling job.

The translation industry is suffering downward price pressure with the increasing influence of machine translation. However machines will never really grasp the nuances of creative text, so as writers, let’s support each other and defend the art of specialist translation.

I think we should produce our best work regardless, know our value and educate clients to use the right professionals to ensure their message is consistent across borders.

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