In the context of international expansion, one confronts the topic of language and translation at every turn. Without translation, there is no new market. Have you ever looked at how many websites, PDFs, Powerpoints, and other documents pass through your company every day? This internal – and above all – customer-oriented content must be translated one by one to enter the new market and show potential new customers that you are very serious about them.
Translation: core element of international expansion
A few days ago, I saw a post that said, “Not everyone who speaks a language is a good translator.”
As someone who has spent more than 5,000 hours understanding, constructing, discussing, taking apart, and putting back together with my own translations and those of other people during my three years of translation studies alone, I admit that I may be biased on this subject – but I have to agree.
Guess what? If you give ten people the same short paragraph to translate, you will get ten different results. Some of them are good, some not so good, some don’t get to the heart of the matter – and if you’re lucky, there are one or two that capture the essence of what you wanted to say and transfer it into the target language so that the reader does not even realise they’re reading a translated text. THAT is what you want to achieve. And that makes it all the more important that trained word acrobats take on this task.
What does science say about translation?
Let’s look at translation from a scientific perspective. In translation studies, there are different approaches to carrying out and evaluating a translation. What do they agree on? A translation should convey content, be idiomatic, easy to read and understand.
The German translation scholar Prof. Dr. Jörn Albrecht supports the view that deviations from the source text depend on the circumstances of the translation. As a general principle, one often hears the phrase “as close as possible, as free as necessary” in translation circles.
With his theory of skopos (Greek for goal), translation expert Hans J. Vermeer goes even further: he sees the source text rather as a supply of information that can be transmitted completely, but also partially or in a modified form to the recipients. Depending on the target group – with its specific knowledge, expectations, values and norms (in short: its culture) – this information is processed and understood as the author intended.
So we can already see that translation does not mean transferring word for word into another language. How a word or sentence can be translated depends on the context! If you have worked with me before, you have certainly heard this sentence. 😊
Do all translators work with paper and pen?
Sure, a translator sometimes scribbles on a piece of paper. But most of them (myself included) work digitally, at least with Microsoft Word, in the best case with a CAT-Tool (Computer Assisted Translation) and terminology database. These tools help them to produce professional and consistent translations. Software localisers also like to use tools such as Phrase or Lokalise, which allow them to work on a translation directly in the respective software without tediously exporting and re-import texts. This often saves a lot of work.
Today, translators often work with machine translation or automated translation. While I cannot recommend Google Translate for quality translation, I use DeepL daily. The translator’s AI is so accurate that you can understand much of the text well, even if not every word is always contextually accurate. This is where post-editing comes in: Translators (or post-editors) adapt the raw translation that the AI spits out to project needs, language rules and usage, terminology and other requirements. By the way: Just like translation, post-editing also needs to be learned. “Not every person who speaks a language” is also good at post-editing – goes without saying, doesn’t it? 😊
Not all translations are equal
Especially in a business context, the target group always plays a major role. In marketing and sales, psychological factors are used to convince potential customers to make a purchase. But if you do not know or ignore the corresponding elements for target customers in another market, you won’t achieve your goals.
However, many non-trained translators stay very close to the source text. Especially people who have not translated often are afraid (and I speak from experience from the beginning of my translation work) to leave out one piece of information or add another. Different readers need different contexts in order to perceive, process and internalise information.
This is why transcreation strategies are often used in this context. As you can probably guess, the term is made up of “translation” and “creation”. In this strategy, translation is combined with copywriting to achieve the desired effect on the target audience. It is therefore much more time-consuming than a translation that is strongly oriented towards the source material, but it is also more creative and usually more effective in a marketing context.
You have probably also heard the term “localisation“. On the one hand, it is used as an umbrella term for all the steps involved in adapting content to a different market. On the other hand, it includes aspects such as the adaptation of texts, images and videos to cultural requirements and national law, as well as SEO research and adaptations.
A good translation:
- Written by a native speaker of the target language
- Proofread by another native speaker of the target language, ideally someone from your company who knows the target market’s challenges well and who will even work with the text themselves.
- Is based on an analysis of target groups, personas and their psychological decision-making factors, especially in a corporate context.
- Has been written (or at least proofread) by someone who knows the target market or industry
- Most importantly, it does not feel like a translation. Readers have the feeling that this text was written directly for them.
Can anyone who speaks a language translate?
Honestly? No. Translating, like every task in a company and in internationalisation, needs to be learned. The good thing is that you can train yourself! With a lot of practice and a healthy interest in language and expression, you can work on your feeling for words.
Whether you do the translation yourself or work with external partners: Don’t be afraid to move away from the source text! Even if it means that the translated content will look different than before. Gently prepare your marketing teams for the fact that a new market will require localised marketing and that often even branding will need to be translated or localised. This is absolutely not against their skills but simply related to the preferences and culture of the new target market.
Speaking a language is not enough to translate properly. You have to have a feeling for language and the ability to express yourself, be willing to take apart and rethink your localisation (more than once), know the target groups and cultures and have a clear goal. Always keep in mind that your team will not have found the right words for your home business in a month (not to mention a week). In the same way, the new market needs time and the right team to develop in a purposeful way.