The role of the internal reviewer
The most successful corporate translation projects are those in which all participants are satisfied with the final result. This is by no means easy, and can often only be achieved in the mid-term. One of the keys to this success is the active participation of an internal reviewer. This should be a real expert in the product and the terminology used in his local market.
One of the main problems with corporate translation projects is that the “coordinator” — the person who places the order — is not the same as the “reviewer” — the person who will use the documentation. This is typical of large corporations with offices in more than one language region. The more languages that are coordinated centrally, the more relevant this issue becomes.
Although there are of course exceptions, the “coordinator” typically does not speak all the target languages. This means they are incapable of judging the quality of the translation (accuracy, tone, register, technical terminology, etc.). The coordinator has no choice but to trust the supplier and hope the translation(s) generates no negative feedback. If indeed no negative feedback is received, all is well and the project has been a success. However, the nightmare begins when one or more colleagues/distributors send a (generally fairly aggressive) e-mail telling him that the translation was terrible, and they can’t possibly approve it.
The original copy
Think how difficult it is to reach a consensus on the wording of marketing copy (adverts, brochures, etc.) in your own language? Put five marketing people together in a meeting room: They could, and often will, argue for hours before agreeing on the “best” marketing copy.
Now imagine trying to translate that end-result to a number of different languages. This process can be very smooth if the coordinator is aware of the pitfalls. But a rough ride if he is not aware of the following language-, business- and people-related issues.
To make matters worse, some coordinators (with the best intentions in mind) send the translation to more than one internal reviewer. This is great if the two (or more) reviewers agree on their feedback. The coordinator can now be doubly sure that the translation is correct and appropriate for the company’s needs. But experience shows that this is seldom the case; the chances that two reviewers agree on the quality of a translation are slim.
The following ideas will help you avoid many of the frustrations caused in translation projects:
The internal reviewer’s profile
Finding the right internal reviewer is often the root of the problem. These are some of the stereotypical profiles:
- Regional manager — most qualified to review (technical knowledge and marketing criteria) but often completely unavailable;
- Engineer/technician — highly qualified for technical review, but not for tone, register or style; might also misunderstand the original;
- Middle level manager — most collaborative and available, might be overzealous in his reviewing.
Another typical problem in multinationals is that reviewers do not report directly to coordinators. So, they will often take their time over the review process, thereby delaying the time-to-market of the translated documents. A change of reviewer can sometimes be the best solution for a frustrating translation project.
Scope of the review process
The first problem can arise if the scope of the reviewing process has not been clearly defined. Coordinators often simply say, “please review this translation” — but a review can include many different things. Typically, reviewers will spend as much time as they have reviewing a document. If they have lots of time on their hands they will do it thoroughly and in great detail; if not, they will skim read or review only the first few paragraphs/pages of the document. Assuming they have enough time, they will probably go into too much detail. More importantly, they will review aspects of the original copy that they should not be reviewing, which creates unnecessary, time-wasting electronic debates.
Accuracy of the reviewer
Most people expect that translators should be native speakers of the target language. And most industry players stick to this rule whenever possible. However, if the reviewer is not a native-speaker, they could misunderstand nuances (and sometimes even whole messages) — leading to potentially harmful, although subtle errors.
This should be the primary concern for all reviewers. Ideally, you should select your reviewer on the basis of technical knowledge of the product and/or market. If so, their opinion here will be relevant and of the utmost importance.
Tone and register
Tone and register depend on the type of document being reviewed. For technical documents, tone and register are usually of little importance; for marketing copy, this is crucial to obtaining a good final result. Your internal reviewer should be clear on the purpose of the document.
This is where personal preferences are most obvious. If reviewers make comments like, “this translation is awful”, “it reads badly” or “it’s too literal”, it creates unnecessary bad feelings and stress. That the reviewer would have translated it differently, does not mean the translation is “bad” or “incorrect”. It simply means that there is more than one way to say it. Bear in mind also that sometimes the problem lies with the original text. It is very difficult to turn dry, turgid original text into jaw-dropping marketing copy in another language.
Market characteristics and appropriateness
Here reviewers can add great value, as they know their market and clients better than anyone else. Therefore, they can judge what the correct tone and register of the final document should be. In this aspect at least, translation project coordinators should take notice of reviewers’ comments and take them seriously.
Degree of freedom to “edit” materials received from head office
This differs amongst companies, but reviewers will often edit the original and say they are fixing problems with the translation. Does your company policy allow national teams to “adapt” your marketing collateral? If not, be sure to ask your translation company whether the reviewer is fine-tuning, or actually changing the message.
“Preferences” versus “mistakes”
Languages are not only constantly evolving, they also vary enormously between regions (the industry refers to these variations as “locales”). In fact, they even vary between speakers (native versus non-native, and even among native speakers). Paradoxically, most people (linguists and non-linguists alike) are convinced that THEIR version of their language is the “right” one. As a result, anything we don’t agree with is automatically categorised as a “mistake”. The lesson here is to have an open mind when it comes to language use. Other people’s translations are not always “wrong”. And other people’s suggestions on your own translation are nearly always worth taking into consideration. The key is open, positive collaboration and discussion before jumping to conclusions.
Limited linguistic knowledge
Whereas we all accept that we know nothing of most languages, a little linguistic knowledge of our own can create an exaggerated level of confidence. This is especially true of English, as most people in business these days have some knowledge of it. To give an extreme, real life example: We had a non-native-English-speaking client, who wouldn’t accept the phrasal verb “make up” (as in “the make-up of the committee displeased the main investor”) because he’d only come across “make up” as a synonym of “cosmetics”. This happens when we know one meaning of a particular word or expression, but have never heard the second one. This is totally understandable and it happens all the time.
Interpersonal skills and attitude
Frustration from the translation process is often directly related to the attitudes and reactions of those involved. Language issues create surprisingly emotional reactions! Don’t assume that an irate reviewer is right, just because his e-mails are “louder” than anybody else’s.
Politics, power struggles and personal enmity
As in any business process, internal power struggles, hidden agendas and personal relationships always affect the final result. This is pretty much unavoidable and completely outside the translation supplier’s control. However, one way to get around it is to involve the reviewer as early as possible in the process. Often negative feedback diminishes when the internal reviewer knows the translator, or they’ve been in contact during the process.
In order to achieve effective corporate communications, we need the combination of professional linguists and knowledgeable reviewers. And the reviewer is often the key to success. You should choose your reviewers on the basis of their technical knowledge (product, market, etc.), their availability and their positive attitude. Depending on the type of documentation, a reviewer should stick to reviewing technical terminology, or to assessing whether the result is appropriate for their home market. Reviewers should not offer opinions on (or refuse to accept) other aspects of the translation. The latter should not interfere with linguistic and stylistic issues.
The keys to a successful translation project are knowing how to fit together clear requirements, effective processes, a collaborative culture and the best possible supplier. The reviewer does not always get to see these elements, and this makes confidence-building and trust all-important.