Often times companies take the single most important question for granted: into which language(s) do we need to translate? Perhaps the answer is not as obvious as one may think, and it influences many aspects of each project.

Some people may not realize that some languages differ in use from one country to another. For example, European French, Spanish and Portuguese all vary significantly from their North & South American counterparts. And there are two kinds of written Chinese, Simplified and Traditional, both independent of spoken Chinese. See our list of the world’s official languages to help you decide which languages you need and call us to help you get your project started in the right direction.

Another important thing to consider is that English language materials written for an English-speaking audience frequently have “hot spots” (seemingly innocuous, easily-overlooked language) which can cause delays in the translation process. See if you can find any of the following in your source document(s):

 Toll-free numbers: Without special arrangements with your phone service provider, 1-800 numbers will typically not work when dialed from outside the United States or Canada. Check with your phone company or simply include your standard number including the country code (+1 123-456-7890) in addition to your toll-free number and write “from within the U.S.” after the toll-free number.
 Puns, Word Play, Rhymes, Idiomatic Expressions: Though many colloquial expressions can usually be successfully translated in meaning or intention, some creations like “E-Z” for “easy” can pose problems in translation. Also, trademarked product names are usually not translated. Though knowledgeable translators will recognize expressions and idioms, issues can arise as some idiomatic expressions are just not translatable.
 Americanisms: Culturally specific references are the wildcards of internationalization. Every reader should feel comfortable with the text, and not like a secondary user. References to national trends, events or obsessions, while appealing to an American reader, may alienate a foreign reader (and are more challenging to translate).
 Imperial versus Metric: The U.S. may still shun the metric system, but it’s the norm abroad. Unless your content is targeted for the U.S. only, all Imperial measurements (i.e., inches, miles, pounds, cups, etc.) must be converted to metric. Because conversions involve the rounding of values, we recommend obtaining the appropriate metric measurements from your in-country contact or doing the conversions prior to submitting your content for translation. If this is not possible, please let us know prior to project commencement, and we will calculate costs accordingly. Providing conversions is an easy way to save money!
 Alphabet Soup: Make sure your material uses abbreviations and acronyms as little as possible. If essential, consider using this convention: when the abbreviation or acronym first occurs in your content, spell it out and follow with the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses; in successive instances, use only the abbreviation. If possible, compile a lexicon of all the essential abbreviations and acronyms used in your content.
 Keeping it Simple: Check to make sure your content is written succinctly and clearly. Avoid dangling phrases (unclear subject/verb relationships). Don’t create new jargon; maintain industry-standard terms (buzzwords may be meaningless to your foreign client or may carry a hidden meaning which also complicates translation). Again, a lexicon of company-specific terms and their use assures the consistency of both the English and translated content.

Consider the following before getting started with the translation of your documentation, collateral or online content:

  • Have you determined your target market(s) and language(s)?
  • Have you established a relationship with in-country reviewers?
  • Is your source material written in clear English which will be culturally appropriate once translated?
  • Have you consulted with your translation service provider about start dates, deadlines and other concerns?
  • Have you considered foreign document formats, packaging and regulatory requirements?

Once you know your target markets and languages, it may be helpful to communicate with your in-country representatives, distributors or subsidiaries. Get ideas and input from them about their customer’s specific needs or “hot buttons” that drive their purchasing decisions. Try to compose and tailor the style, layout, language and approach of your English source documentation to meet the cultural standards and expectations of your target audiences. Review existing source documents and decide what changes could be made. Whenever possible, it may be a good idea for your foreign sales office or subsidiaries to approve your final source documentation before the translation process actually gets started. Just some food for thought.

By Jason Wood
CEO & Managing Director