Even though professional translators are language experts and are often highly specialized, that does not automatically mean that they know exactly what to do 100% of the time. Language can be subjective and sometimes there may be multiple correct answers. As the translation buyer, your instructions will likely be able to provide a wealth of information and knowledge to facilitate the translation process. While a translator will always do his or her utmost to ask the questions that are necessary to deliver a perfect project, below you will find some tips on information that you can provide to ensure that what you get back meets your expectations.
Who is your target audience?
Is your text for information purposes only? Is it for your employees, customers, or prospects? Will it be read by specialists or the general public? Will it be published in a trade journal or on your company’s blog? Knowing who will read the text and what its intended use is are important for answering a host of questions, many of which relate to register, or stylistic variations according to formality, context, and audience. Tell your translator who your audience is to ensure that an informal letter from the CEO doesn’t read like the Treatise on Differential Equations.
Is there language in your text that would be difficult for an outsider to understand? At a translation company I used to work for, the sentence, “Once you get the JS from the AE, prepare the TXML for TEP and use Project V to find vendors for trans and proof before scheduling the QM,” would have been commonplace and understood by all. It is not realistic to assume that a translator will be able to understand all of your company-specific terms, so provide explanations and guidance whenever possible. Good translators will ask for clarification when necessary, so make yourself available to answer those questions in a timely manner.
Company-specific language often relates to acronyms, but many people don’t realize that most acronyms change when they are translated. Even ubiquitous acronyms like “UN” and “USA” are different in other languages. But unlike these pervasive acronyms, most do not have standard equivalents in other languages. How do you want them handled? Translators should not make up new acronyms that your target audience will not understand. If you’re unsure of what to do, ask the translator for suggestions. Depending on the target audience and type of text, he or she will be able to offer some guidance.
Some texts, most often technical or financial (but not always), may require conversions for measurements and currencies. Do you mention how far your manufacturing facility is from your headquarters in kilometers or miles? Do you use Fahrenheit or Celsius? Should yen be converted to pesos? Translators need to know if you want measurements converted completely, conversions provided for reference, or no conversion at all. Another important consideration is how you want conversions rounded. How many places after the decimal should the translator go? Again, an experienced translator can provide guidance and recommendations, but the final decision should be made by the client.
Many companies publish an internal, monolingual style guide or graphic charter to ensure their writing is consistent with their image and brand. It may seem trivial, but providing this kind of reference material to a translator can be immensely helpful for ensuring that the translation fits your company’s specifications. Does your company avoid contractions in its English press releases? Do you want to use informal forms of address in languages that make the distinction (like using tú in Spanish rather than usted)? Do you have an aversion to the word moist? These are all style elements that are worth communicating to your translator.
If these questions are not answered before the project starts, good translators will make sure to clear them up (and many others) before they begin. However, by taking the time to spell this information out before they even ask, you will demonstrate your knowledge of the process and your eagerness to help in what is often a highly collaborative process.
Translators, what are the most helpful instructions you’ve ever received from a customer? Please leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.