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?
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.
They say two heads are better than one. Well, that is certainly the case in translation, where translators and revisers often pair up to deliver the best possible finished product.
Revision is the process of comparing a translation with the original document to check that it is faithful to the author’s intention and that nothing has been left out. Since even the best translator can make a mistake, a reviser will carefully scour the page for the minutest of oversights. The reviser will also look out for heavy, awkward or unnatural phrasing and polish up the style as needed.
Here are some common translation traps any good reviser will be on the lookout for.
Interference from the other language
Translators sometimes find it hard to remove themselves from the structure and wording of the source text. This is especially true when they are immersed in that language, as English‑to‑French translators are in North America. The result is a text that reads like a translation, as opposed to something a native speaker would write. In French-to-English translation, these kinds of mistakes are called Gallicisms. Loanwords (words borrowed directly from another language, such as café) are easy enough to spot. However, there are other, more insidious Gallicisms that creep their way into the language. The following are just a few examples of this type of interference:
A semantic loan can become so ingrained in our vocabulary and so seemingly English that it is barely perceptible. When two similar words exist in the languages of Molière and Shakespeare, few people will question their equivalence, even when they mean entirely (or at least somewhat) different things. French and English words that look alike but have different meanings are called false friends.
money for monnaie (small change)
important for important (in the sense of large)
entrée (a main course) forentrée (appetizer)
passing an exam forpasser un examen (writing an exam)
library for librairie(bookstore)
Yes, all of these words are in the dictionary, but using these English “equivalents” will alter the meaning of your text, sometimes dramatically.
Calques, or “translationese”
With a calque, it is not the word itself but the actual syntax that is carried over from the source language. Like false friends, calques can make their way into the target language and go under the radar.
There are more obvious ones:
Shut the light forfermer la lumière (turn off the light)
Take an appointment for prendre un rendez-vous (make an appointment)
You miss me for tu me manques (I miss you)
And then there are sneakier ones:
Marketing phrases like Vous avezenviede changer de fournisseur? rendered as You wanta new service provider? rather than something along the lines of Needa new service provider? or Looking toswitch providers?
The use of we rather than you when the French uses on generally (e.g. We are supposed to wear helmets when riding a bicycle, instead of You are supposed to…).
Improper use and overuse
Another kind of mistake occurs when a word is used incorrectly or far more often than it should be. Translators and revisers have to check themselves to insure—er, ensure—that they aren’t committing these fatal errors!
All the sudden for all of a sudden (particularly common in U.S. English)
Literally used for emphasis rather than to mean something exactly as described, as in My head literally exploded when I heard that!
Sneak peak for sneak peek
Above all else, translation is about conveying meaning. Whatever words are chosen, or whatever style is used, the meaning of the original message has to be conveyed as faithfully as possible. Translation errors can be broken down into several sub-categories: misinterpretations, mistranslations, meaning shifts, and nonsense translations.
The hardest to spot are probably meaning shifts. Unlike the other types of errors, shifts in meaning can be ever-so-subtle. If a translator does not catch on to a particular connotation of a certain word or phrase, the translation may still read well even though the meaning has completely changed. Having a solid grasp of the source language will help, but to steer clear of these mistakes you have to be extremely discerning and know when to question your own understanding.
Revision is the ultimate exercise in meticulousness. In addition to calques, improper usage and translation errors, there are countless other details that call for a reviser’s attention: typographical conventions and rules of grammar, proper spelling, formatting, linguistic idiosyncrasies and client preferences, to name just a few. All the more reason to work with professional translators and revisers!
You need the services of a translation company, but how do you figure out which one is best for your business’s needs? Finding the right fit can require some research. After all, the company that you select will have the difficult task of conveying your message and image in a different language, and making sure it resonates with another culture. Before you partner with a translation services provider, it is wise to look carefully at your options. Here are some things to consider to make sure you ask the right questions.
A company that demonstrates professionalism
Choose a company that takes pride in providing quality services. Its fees may not be the cheapest, but its team will be made up of language professionals, including certified translators, whose extensive schooling will have equipped them to skilfully render your message.
Be mindful that any respectable translation company will assign your texts to professionals translating into their first language, guaranteeing that they have a perfect understanding of its nuances and subtleties.
A company that listens
A translation company that cares about its clients takes the time to assess their needs and ask key questions in order to provide custom solutions. To make sure you’re supported through every step of your language-related decisions, choose a translation company that communicates clearly and effectively.
A flexible company
Flexibility is critical for last-minute and long-term projects, or those involving multiple versions of a document. A reliable company will put simple and effective processes in place to be able to quickly adapt in any circumstance. A solid network of external and internal resources will guarantee on-time delivery of your projects.
A specialized company
Communications, education, food, health, retail… Every field has its own particularities and distinct vocabulary, and only a translator with knowledge of your industry will be able to lend projects the credibility you should be able to expect.
A company committed to respecting your confidentiality
Did you know that the content entered into certain online translation tools becomes publicly accessible? Be wary of translation companies that use these products. Professional tools that meet your confidentiality standards do exist.
Inquire about the company’s security policy and related systems, as well as the types of software it uses. Also consider having the company sign a confidentiality agreement to protect yourself from any indiscretions.
A company that offers all-inclusive service
What’s one of the greatest advantages of working with a translation company? Being able to depend on a whole team of qualified professionals! Enjoy peace of mind, with project managers, translators, adaptors, revisers, proofreaders, terminologists, desktop publishing specialists and IT specialists all working together to offer you end-to-end service.
Have you found your perfect match? Don’t hesitate to share your questions or concerns with your new team of language services experts. Your business’s reputation should be as important to them as it is to you. Once that relationship of trust and respect is firmly established, you’ll know you’ve found the ideal language partner.
“Max arrive sur Montréal dans deux jours. Du coup, je vais lui louer une chambre dans mon appartement.”
If you’re not fluent in the language, all French may sound alike, but there are some subtle (and not‑so‑subtle) differences between what you might hear in France versus in Canada. Even if you leave slang out of the equation, the French use some very particular expressions and structures that really stand out when they show up in writing. One such example would be the omnipresent du coup (which essentially means and so), a phrase that is applied especially liberally in the spoken language. Or (yet), a favourite way for European French speakers to start a sentence, is another dead giveaway.
When a Canadian visits Montréal, they arrive à (at) the city, not sur (on) the city, as a Frenchman might say: three little letters that nevertheless speak volumes.
One other telltale sign that a writer may be from across the pond is the heavy use of loanwords from English, something Canada’s French translators are taught to avoid from the time they start their training. After all, French-Canadians are a minority in a predominantly English‑speaking continent—a far cry from the situation in France—which explains why translators here are so meticulous about rooting out Anglicisms.
Just for the fun of it, let’s look at a few more examples.
In France, cloud is a widely accepted word in the IT world and in general usage, whereas a Quebecois would use nuage or infonuagique.
The cosmetics industry is rife with such variations, France’s stick and eyeliner being bâton and crayon pour les yeux in Quebec, to name just a few.
In spoken language, a Quebecois with a sweet ride may brag about their late model char, while their French counterpart would go on about their caisse.
In France, they don’t chew gomme, they erase pencil marks with it. In Quebec, we chew gomme (gum) and use an efface (eraser) to rub out written text.
We could even go on ad nauseam about the countless regional variations in the way words are spelled, but our goal isn’t to bore you to death. The point we’re trying to make here is that there are a multitude of linguistic details that affect how an original or translated French text is received.
That is precisely why it is so important to go with a local translation services provider, one that will be able to tailor your message perfectly to your target audience.
Doing business with a Canadian agency is worth it! Professional translators in Canada have degrees in their field. In school, they learn to skillfully work around the traps associated with the linguistic interference typical to places like Quebec. A French translation from La Belle Province will always read better to a French-Canadian than one concocted on the other side of the Atlantic.
The same goes for English and Spanish. Any company hoping to break onto the North American market would be wise to opt for a Canadian company over a European one. Canadian, US and British English are not the same, nor are Latin American and European Spanish. A Canadian company will be well aware of those regional differences.
Choosing a Quebec-based translation firm such as Idem means:
working with a team of professionals who truly get your communication and business needs, your message and what it is that makes your target markets unique; and
being able to count on translators with a keen understanding not just of the words, but of the many possible nuances and underlying meanings.
All of the French examples may be eloquent, but they may not all be right for your audience. How about these two? Which would speak to you?