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Translation for Government & NGOs

Translation for Government & NGOs

Alongside the European Union, the US federal government is one of the world’s biggest spenders on language services. A 2010 CSA report observed that this spending “serves to highlight an important fact – effective communication across multiple languages is vital to the US government both for its interactions with other nations and to serve the diverse base of constituents within its borders”. In 2017, US government contracts worth over half a billion US dollars, were awarded for translation and interpretation.

Likewise, it is essential for an NGO with a global focus to reach beyond one language — not least in terms of securing grants and funding. NGOs are global players that can regulate and influence global politics and provide humanitarian and development aid. NGOs differ fundamentally from other organisations working at an international level; not only in terms of their background but also considering different budgetary priorities and the motivations of their staff. In this context — when agents with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds come together — providing language mediation is often part of an NGO’s day-to-day work. Since these organisations aim to negotiate between agents — effective translation and interpreting are crucial for the functioning of an effective NGO.

At QuickSilver Translate, experience has taught us that when translating documents related to governmental bodies, it is vital to produce a faithful translation, but also a text which strives towards readability. Government documents are often long and, necessarily, complicated; we try to produce a translation which is as readable as possible within the constraints of accuracy.

Potential pitfalls

Legal

Regarding legal terminology, it may seem that a term in one language has a precise equivalent in another, however it can in fact have a broader or narrower meaning. For example, the Polish term spółka z ograniczoną odpowiedzialnością is usually translated as a limited liability company, which is a more or less direct translation. However, within US law, the closest equivalent would be private corporation.

Regional

Another key issue is variation within a given language. When translating into English, for example, will your audience be based in the UK, USA or Australia? If the UK, in Scotland or England? All of these countries have distinct legal systems, but often use the same terminology to designate different, or only partially overlapping, concepts. Likewise, the different varieties of Spanish use legal terms in different ways. In peninsular Spanish, jurisprudencia means legal philosophy (in other words, it is a cognate of the English jurisprudence), but in Mexico jurisprudencia refers to the event of the Mexican Supreme Court resolving a case in the same way five times and thus establishing a binding legal precedent. Not being aware of issues such as these leads to, at best, confusion or, at worst, grave misunderstandings.

Cultural

Furthermore, it’s important to remember, languages do not exist in isolation, they exist in societies. As such, languages absorb elements of the culture, history, and politics of these societies. Consequently, our speech is often full of cultural references. There are many cultural conventions that influence people’s speech, for instance, levels of politeness used in different situations. For example, many Asian languages, such as Japanese or Korean, pay special attention to politeness and have complex systems of honorifics (expressions of politeness) which have no equivalent in European languages. Translating between such different languages, in either direction, requires special attention to the formality and politeness level of the situation. 

In conclusion

We believe to achieve effective communications, whether it’s translation for government or corporations, you should use a qualified, professional translator. It’s also vital for to have a successful relationship with both your translator/translation provider and your reviewer. To ensure satisfactory output, one must be aware of the difference in expertise between the reviewer and translator. Translators are qualified professionals, with honed linguistic skills. The reviewer should have a thorough knowledge of your market, your brand, and any specific terminology. 

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