Lost in translation

Lost in translation

We’ve all gotten a good chuckle out of badly translated restaurant menus. “Choice of flat” for plat au choix, “expensive customers” for chers clients… Sadly, bungled translations are commonplace. Whether they’re the unfortunate result of first-generation machine translations or the work of people unfamiliar with the dictionary, these kinds of mistakes happen when context is not taken into account. If you’re in England looking for a flat (British for “apartment”), you certainly won’t find it in a restaurant!

Anyone can make a mistake, but not everyone can translate. A dictionary and translation software are useful—essential even. However, to translate effectively using these tools, you must already be proficient in the language and understand that meaning is dictated by a variety of linguistic, geographic and cultural factors.

From a linguistic point of view, when explorer Jacques Cartier came upon the cape on the Gaspé Peninsula between Percé and Grande-Rivière and called it Cap‑d’Espoir (“Cape of Hope”), little did he know that the cape’s name would later take on the opposite meaning, Cap-Désespoir, as the English referred to it as “Cape Despair.”[1] Some knowledge of geography and botany can also be useful in translation. For example, while there were no apple trees in biblical lands, the Bible refers to the forbidden fruit as an apple! This results from an incorrect translation of the Latin word pomum, which means any fruit, not specifically the fruit of an apple tree (malum). It’s more likely that the fruit Eve supposedly picked from the tree of knowledge and gave to Adam to eat was a fig.[2]

As amusing as such blunders may be, there have been cases where translation errors have had catastrophic repercussions. According to some sources, the bombing of Hiroshima resulted from such an error. When the Allies called for Japan’s unconditional surrender, journalists wanted to find out how the Japanese authorities would react. Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki replied that he “was withholding comment for the moment.” He used the word mokusatsu, which has several possible meanings. News agencies and translators took it to mean “to treat with silent contempt” or “not worthy of comment,” and thus erroneously quoted the Prime Minister as saying that he was rejecting the ultimatum.[3] We all know what happened next.

More recently, during the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, Russia and Georgia were both claiming the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A ceasefire agreement might have been signed, but the Russians had left tanks in territory considered to belong to Georgia. A subtlety in the Russian translation was supposedly the source of this misunderstanding, which prolonged the war by a month. It seems that only the English document specified that the Russian forces had to withdraw.[4]

The moral of the story: while anyone can make a mistake, the best way to avoid them is to use the services of a professional translation company that relies on trustworthy translators and sound processes.

[1] “Through the Lens of History: Historic, fateful or comical translation errors”

[2] Idem

[3] Idem

[4] Alféef, Emmanuelle. “Traduction : les erreurs qui ont changé la donne,” L’express. April 18, 2011.

A translator’s play-by-play

A translator’s play-by-play

I work as a translator at an agency, and my project manager has just assigned me an 800 word document. So here’s me jumping in!

I begin by checking whether the client has provided any specific instructions, and he has: “This document will be used at our members’ annual seminar.” I already get an idea of what the document is about from the file name: training_XGTmachinery.doc. It appears to be a training document for some type of machinery. Let me open the file and see…

First line: yes, the title is definitely referring to training. I’ll get back to it later once I have the big picture.

The content is pretty specialized! I’ll need to research a lot of technical terms. Luckily, the client sent us a glossary with a previous project. Phew!

I’m a third of the way through the translation and I now know this training is for a workshop for farm equipment operators. I do my best to set the right tone for the target audience and use industry terminology.

Okay, now I’m halfway done. I’ve found almost all the technical terms relating to farming equipment in the client’s glossary and some reliable online sources, but I’m still uncertain about two terms and one sentence seems to be incomplete (I think a word is missing). I’ll need to contact the client, but to avoid bothering him with several messages, I’ll combine all my questions in a single email. That means I need to scan the rest of the document to see if there are other snags. Done! I didn’t find any other issues, so I send off my questions.

We have a few questions about the document we are currently translating…

I get back to work and, in the process, I’m learning how the machines in the document are operated. No doubt about it, translation is the perfect job for enquiring minds.

The client has replied to my email. That was fast! He’s answered my questions about the two terms and confirmed that a word is indeed missing from that sentence. Oh! And he’s asked me to use an updated version of his document, which he has attached to his email.

But since the changes aren’t clearly indicated, the two documents will need to be compared. My project manager gets on it right away and sends me the new document to be translated.

I pick up where I had left off. A few sentences have changed and others added. Our translation support tools make it really easy to see the changes.

Great! I’ve finished my translation. Only the title remains, but it’ll be a whole lot easier to translate now that I know exactly what the training is about. I’d even say I feel a bit like an expert in the subject!

Rereading my document is an essential step and I always leave time for it. First, I compare the source and target documents to make sure my translation is faithful to the original. Then I check the names, figures and dates. Next, I shift my focus solely to the style of my translation to make sure it flows as smoothly and naturally as possible in English.

Final step? I run the corrector. While it’s not a perfect tool (sometimes it even makes mistakes), it’s invaluable for detecting those pesky little errors that are easy to miss and helping me to polish my final draft.

I’m really fortunate to work with talented revisers, so my document will be reread and further improved by another language professional. Now that I’m satisfied with my translation, I pass it along to my colleague for that next step. But my day isn’t over yet; other projects are already popping up and piquing my curiosity. On to the next one!

Our translation company at a glance

Idem offers a wide range of language solutions tailored to organizations of every size operating in different fields. Professionalism, receptivity and approachability have been our bywords from the start. Our approach is grounded in cooperation, strong partnerships and proven efficiency. Entrust us with your communications.
Project management: A major component of the translation process

Project management: A major component of the translation process

From the client’s first contact to the delivery of the finished document, a translation project entails many steps. And ensuring that everything runs smoothly calls for rigorous coordination, which is where project managers come in. These individuals have a complex and demanding role, overseeing all aspects related to project analysis, quotes, planning and follow-up. Their specific skills and expertise make them indispensable for the efficient operation of a translation company.

First-rate communicator

Good project managers are above all excellent communicators, with superior verbal and writing skills. They have to respond quickly to client questions and provide clear instructions to everyone working on a translation project, supporting them with tact and diplomacy every step of the way. They are the focal point of each project, liaising with everyone involved and effectively communicating client instructions to the language professionals so that nothing is left to chance.

Discerning analyst

Project managers are skilled at asking clients the right questions to obtain the right information. What will the document be used for? Who will read it? Will there be accompanying visuals? Are there specific constraints, such as a limited number of characters? They also meticulously document their projects to ensure that, if needed, a colleague can seamlessly step in to take over the work.

Unshakeable expert

Project management takes a cool head at all times as pressure can build quickly when unforeseen circumstances, technical difficulties and very tight deadlines pop up. When this happens, project managers need to be able to turn on a dime and be resourceful in finding a solution to each problem. And to do their job efficiently without losing time on unnecessary steps, they must have a sound work method.

Exceptional planner

Project managers must always be on top of their game and highly familiar with their resources’ talents so they can assign the right projects to the right translators. They understand that all language professionals have their strengths and weaknesses, and some are keener about certain topics than others. For example, a project manager would assign marketing and advertising texts to more creative translators, website and software content to localization specialists, and contracts and other regulatory documents to legal translators.

Here’s how a typical translation project flows:

1. Receipt of the request: The client asks for a quote on the cost of translating documents.

2. Analysis: What type of project is it? Translation? Adaptation? Localization? How many files? What’s the total word count? Is it a rush?

3. Quote preparation: The project manager provides the client with a detailed description of the services and costs as well as an estimated delivery time.

4. Planning: Will other steps be involved on top of translation and revision? (Proofreading? Desktop publishing? Quality assurance?) Who should be used for the project? Which translators are best equipped for the mandate?

5. Follow-up: Project managers make sure everything goes as planned. They ensure that the timeline is respected, process any updates from the client and, if needed, reassign certain tasks to other collaborators.

6. Delivery: The translated documents, in layout, are returned to the client by the agreed deadline. For long-term projects with multiple documents, or if some translations are more urgent than others, file delivery may be staggered.

7. Invoicing: The project manager records the initially quoted fees and adds any discounts negotiated or offered as part of the project.

8. Archiving: The databases are updated, and the source and target files are archived in a way that ensures they can easily be traced if needed.

Project management specialists clearly play a crucial role at every step of the translation process. Versatile, resourceful and never leaving anything to chance, these qualified professionals are adept at multitasking with impressive efficiency. They ensure that the language experts always work under the best possible conditions so that the clients always get the best possible translations.

Our translation company at a glance

Idem offers a wide range of language solutions tailored to organizations of every size operating in different fields. Professionalism, receptivity and approachability have been our bywords from the start. Our approach is grounded in cooperation, strong partnerships and proven efficiency. Entrust us with your communications.

Choosing specialized translation for effective business communications

Choosing specialized translation for effective business communications

Communication is key to any company’s success. To capture the right kind of attention from the right people, a business has to understand how to get through to its intended audience. It has to use the customers’ language in a way that demonstrates an understanding of its subtleties, which is where specialized translation comes into play.

What is specialized translation?

Specialized translation can signify translation that observes an organization’s specific lexical and typographical preferences. Different companies may describe the same concepts using different words. These variations may stem from the image the company aims to project, the message it wants to convey or its unique corporate philosophy. For example, although companies now commonly use gender‑neutral language in communications, or even the hotly debated singular they, some prefer the more explicit he or she. Some companies have customers while others have clients, and some financial institutions may be partial to the term quick ratio rather than its synonym, acid‑test ratio.

Specialized translation also refers to translation in specialized fields. Disciplines such as medicine, pharmacology, finance, law and IT all use specialized languages, otherwise known as industry jargon, and many even have subspecialties (think common law versus civil law, or economics versus banking). Translators specializing in a given field will understand its particular expressions and technical terms, which are not usually found in your standard dictionary or understood by the average Joe.

If your company needs technical documents translated, it’s in your best interest to work with specialized translators for that field or, at the very least, professionally trained general translators, who are qualified to know which sources to consult and how to avoid common translation errors. In addition to their advanced research skills, generalists often have basic knowledge of several specialized languages.

The importance of choosing a single translation provider

There is no doubt about it, specialized translation should be left to the pros. The safest bet is to work with a single translation firm for all communications. Among other things, this makes it much easier to consistently use the company’s preferred style and terminology and effectively convey its brand image. Over time, your chosen language professionals thus become experts in your organization’s communication preferences.

If, on the other hand, a company works with multiple service providers, it may very well find itself contending with huge variations in translation quality. The inconsistencies from one text to another can ultimately dilute the company’s overall message and image.

For a business to get noticed and remain top of mind, its corporate communications need to be consistent and drive home a central message in each language. Your original texts are the work of specialists—don’t your translations deserve the same?

Marketing translation: Three strategies the pros swear by

Marketing translation: Three strategies the pros swear by

Thinking of expanding your products or services into new markets? First, you’ll have to translate your brand and marketing content so that your new audience can understand it. That’s where marketing translation comes in. Creativity is especially vital in this branch of translation, and experts in this field use a variety of techniques to avoid language traps and effectively recreate the impact of the original.

In marketing translation, context is everything. Is the ad visual or verbal? Is it part of a larger campaign? Will it be posted on social media? Does it include symbols or images? A professional translator will ask these and other questions to determine your needs and constraints, and will choose a suitable approach to come up with an equally compelling message in the target language.

The translator will first attempt to render the message using the translation process. A basic language transfer is sometimes all it takes to properly convey the message in the language of choice without losing the impact of the original. Of course, a professional will never translate an ad too literally. The text should stand alone as though it were an original, meaning it should flow well and sound natural to the target audience.

Adaptation comes in when all attempts at regular translation fall flat and the translator has to change certain extralinguistic elements of the text, such as wordplay and cultural references that lose their meaning in another language.

Professional translators also switch into adaptation mode when they deem that the content could be poorly received by the audience without undergoing further modification. As each country has its own cultural norms and sensitivities, what goes over well in one place can be offensive or vulgar in another. If left unadapted, a message can even end up with an unfortunate double meaning. Recently, the Audi e-tron caused a stir when it was marketed to a French audience. The name e-tron is pronounced just like étron, which means crap (not to mention other, similarly unbecoming interpretations).

Adaptation is a technique that gives the translator the freedom to tailor a message to the new audience’s linguistic and cultural reality, taking the social, geographical, political and religious context into account. In other words, the translator takes a highly customized approach, adopting the local advertising style to win over the target audience.

When neither translation nor adaptation suffice, translators turn to transcreation. By skilfully combining translation and creation, the translator develops a whole new message that will serve the same purpose as the original and resonate with the audience in the same way. This is usually necessary for plays on words, which can lose their desired effect when translated literally. Here, the translator has to find a clever turn of phrase that has the same meaning in the target language or come up with an altogether new sentence that will be just as catchy as the original.

Transcreation also proves essential when an advertisement includes images, for example. When marketing text is translated, the accompanying visuals are unlikely to be as powerful or meaningful as they are in the original. With the client’s permission, the translator may therefore rethink the imagery. The end result is an advertisement that is completely different from the source text, but equally effective at reaching the intended audience. Just look at Pepsi: the brand decided to put a local spin on its ads to win over Quebecers in the ’80s, and has been the province’s cola of choice ever since. It just goes to show that changing things up a bit can pay off big time, and that holds true for translation, too!

A company that wants to maintain a consistent image across cultures and establish a familiar global presence may instead go the one-size-fits-all route. Multinational corporations generally prefer to run ad campaigns with the same concepts in all markets. This allows certain big-name brands to become recognizable anywhere in the world. When translators take this global approach, they render the slogan and that’s it. While the cost factor may make it an appealing alternative to adaptation and transcreation, a blanket approach will never have quite the same impact as a marketing campaign that is perfectly customized to the target market.

At the end of the day, you want to persuade consumers. The marketing translation process involves applying a host of tried-and-true strategies, from the conventional to the utterly ingenious, in order to do just that. Professional marketing translators are masters of these techniques, so in their capable hands, your ads are sure to make a splash with any audience.