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The importance of translating marketing collateral

In an increasingly globalised and borderless world, communicating your global message to local markets is more important than ever.

The quality of your translated content speaks volumes for your own commitment to quality and respect for local cultures. The public face of your company must respond to linguistic differences. The assumption that ‘everyone speaks English’ will in all probability end up losing you business.

A company’s marketing collateral (in the broadest sense of the term) should be one of its greatest strengths. Its brochures, advertising, webpage and product catalogues must be produced in exactly the language that its target customers speak. We have all had experiences of reading advertising copy which feels inaccurate, even if that is only because it is written in a different ‘version’ of your language.

Take English. A British consumer is unlikely to be won over by an advertising campaign which is primarily addressed to Australians. Although these two countries speak the same language, the cultural differences between them are vast. Consumers have different priorities, different values, different needs. An Australian brewer, for example, might emphasise how refreshing their product is, whilst a British beerseller might concentrate on the flavour.

This is, of course, an extreme case. But even more subtle differences can have a serious impact.

Unlike more technical translations, absolute precision is secondary to the flow and feeling of a marketing translation. An all-too-common translation pitfall is to slip into what we call ‘translationese’. With some kinds of documentation, generally of a more technical nature, accuracy to the original is essential; when it comes to marketing collateral, however, it is fundamentally important to produce a text which reads as if it were written by a native speaker. ‘Translationese’ is when you sacrifice this clarity in order to reproduce the meaning of the original, and end up with something which is probably grammatically correct, but phrased in a way that a native speaker would never use.

Sticking with English, one small example (from the cartoon Family Guy, as it happens) illustrates this principle. In conversation, a native of the USA would always say that something cost ‘one-fifty’, but never that it cost ‘one-dollar-fifty-cents’. The second option is perfectly correct, it is just unidiomatic. This is the sort of ‘mistake’ which an inadequate or inexperienced (or non-native) translator won’t notice, but any native speaker will recognise as a translation – classic translationese!

For this and other reasons, a good language service provider (LSP) will invariably work with translators who are native speakers of the target language. In addition, during the final stage of the review process, marketing translations should be evaluated on their own merits; that is, without comparing them to the source text. Having been edited thoroughly for accuracy, a good LSP will check that all translations are phrased in a way that a native speaker would use.

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