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The audience of a translation

It may seem obvious, but it is vitally important that from the outset both you and your language service provider (LSP) have a clear idea of exactly who the ‘target audience‘ of the translation will be.

All business documentation is directed at one or more groups of stakeholders. Understanding who the target is will help shape the type of translation required.

It can be helpful to visualise it in terms of this simple matrix:

Although it is an over-simplification, the division between accuracy and inspiration, and internal and external audiences, is an important one.

Lets take a couple of examples.

You have a blog post which talks about a new product. Of course, everyone in your company knows about the new product, and has probably already made up their mind if they are going to buy one or not. The target audience for this blog post is therefore your customer base, which falls in the EXTERNAL/INSPIRATIONAL corner of the matrix.

Now, the person who reads your blog posts probably won’t be interested in the technical details. Nor will the post itself go into great depth about all the possible functions of this product. The original will reflect this: it will be written in a smooth, conversational style, and the formatting will optimise ease of reading. The translation must also prioritise these values. It is essential, therefore, that it reads fluidly and as if it had been written from scratch by a native speaker. An experienced translator, in this case, might be prepared to sacrifice an absolute fidelity to the syntax of the original in order to concentrate on producing a readable translation.

Let’s contrast this with an internal financial report. In this case, the style of the writing is far from essential. What the audience of this report want is the facts, laid out in a clear and direct style which does not waste time with unnecessary flourishes.

Here, the crucial thing for the translator is to reproduce the text exactly in the target language. Every digit is important, and often the explanatory text is ordered very precisely. The translator must be prepared to tolerate a slightly unusual word-order, for example, if it is essential that a sentence or paragraph
lay out an idea in a certain sequence.

An experienced translator or project manager will be able to assess the requirements of a certain translation. This is another reason that it is vitally important to be in close communication with your LSP from the outset of a project.

A translation will respond better to your needs the clearer you are about what those needs are.

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