‘Preferences’ versus ‘mistakes’
Languages are not only constantly evolving, they also vary enormously between locales. In fact, languages even vary between individual speakers. Paradoxically, most people (linguists and non-linguists alike) are convinced that their version of the language they speak is the ‘right’ one, which means that anything they wouldn’t themselves have said 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.
Tone and register
For technical documents, tone and register are usually of relatively little importance; for marketing copy, this is crucial to obtaining a good final result.
This is where personal preferences are most obvious. Comments like ‘the translation is awful’, ‘it does not read well’, ‘it is too literal’ or ‘this was translated by a machine’ create unnecessary bad feelings, frustration and stress. The fact that the reviewer would have translated it differently does not mean that the proposed translation is ‘bad’ or ‘incorrect’, it just means that there is more than one way to do 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 a lot of value, as they know their market and clients better than anyone else, and can therefore judge what the correct tone and register of the final document should be. In this aspect at least, translation project coordinators should listen to reviewers’ comments and take them very seriously.
Degree of freedom to ‘edit’ materials received from head office
This differs from company to company, but reviewers will often edit the original and say they are fixing problems with the translation. If company policy is not to allow national teams to “adapt” marketing collateral, it is important to clarify with the LSP whether the reviewer is just fine-tuning the translation or actually changing the marketing message.
Limited linguistic knowledge
Whereas we all accept that we know nothing of most languages, a little linguistic knowledge often creates an exaggerated level of confidence. This is especially true of English, as most people in business these days have some knowledge of it. An extreme (real life) example of this is the (non-native-English) client who wouldn´t accept the phrasal verb ‘make up’ (as in ‘the make-up of the committee displeased the main investor’) because he had only come across the word as a synonym of ‘cosmetics’. This happens most when one is familiar with 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 generated, allbeit indirectly, by the translation process is often directly related to the attitudes and reactions of those involved. Language issues create surprisingly emotional reactions, so don´t assume that an irate reviewer is right just because his e-mails are ‘louder’ than anybody else’s. Likewise, a translator/proofreader is not always right just because he ‘guarantees’ he is.
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, but one way to get around it is to obtain the reviewer’s buy-in by getting him involved in the process as early as possible.
To summarise: the best possible result for corporate communications is achieved through the combination of professional linguists and knowledgeable reviewers, and the reviewer is often the key to success. Precisely because they’re so important, reviewers should be chosen on the basis of their technical knowledge, their availability and their positive attitude. Depending on the type of documentation, they should stick to reviewing technical terminology or to assessing whether the result is appropriate for their home market. Although it is a huge temptation to do so, reviewers should not offer opinions on (or refuse to accept) other aspects of the translation.