With this series of entries (18 in total), I will offer a “quick” breakdown of the key factors involved in the translation of business documentation. It should be particularly relevant for managers in multinational companies, especially those who may not know any foreign languages or whose previous experience with the translation process has proved frustrating and riddled with problems.
We will attempt to shed some light on how to understand your needs, grasp the issues and pick the best solution. Along the way, you will get tips on:
- How to plan your documentation project
- What to look out for and what to avoid
- How to find the right supplier and what to expect from them?
- How to minimise hassle in the entire process
Understanding your needs
The first step towards a successful translation project is to clearly understand your business, linguistic and technical needs. Business translation is more complex than many people think. Most of us would agree that there is no single “right” way of translating a word, phrase, paragraph or document. People have different backgrounds which shape their opinions about what sounds or feels better in a particular context. As a result, translation is an imperfect science. There are “correct” and “incorrect” ways of translating texts, to be sure, but there is a large grey area where legitimate questions of style or personal preference prevail.
Here’s an example – Imagine a meeting with the marketing department in your company. You’re designing a new corporate brochure, and everyone has their own take on what should be said and how. You know how difficult it is to reach a consensus in this type of situation. Now imagine reaching that same consensus in another language, a language you probably are not very familiar with (or in which you are not as fluent) and which you cannot therefore judge. You need to decide who to trust. Will it be someone within or associated with your company (a colleague, distributor, etc.)? That is fine as long as the person giving advice is an expert in your industry, understands the original English text perfectly and abstains from making strong judgments about the “right” tone for the document. Otherwise, you may end up jeopardizing the results. The core issue is that you are responsible for publishing the document in question and yet you have no surefire way of judging its quality! Who do you turn to?
The documentation process is full of obstacles like this, pitfalls impossible to avoid if you are not on the lookout for them. Most marketing and technical departments often wonder how difficult it can be, really. “Come on, it’s only a translation,” they’ll say, as though it were a question of applying a mathematical formula. Some might even add:
“I’ve had translations done before and I’ve always been very pleased!” Sure. This may be the case for small projects with no tight deadlines, nontechnical language and an in-house translator who knows the company and its terminology inside out. Take away the dedicated translator, add more languages, push for a tight deadline or include technical terms, and you are treading on thin ice. Each company has its own special translation and documentation needs.
To understand what these needs are and be able to convey them to translation suppliers, ask yourself some basic questions.