Problems Getting a Good Translation (and Solutions!)

More than ever, the world is online and we can communicate with people across the globe. Perhaps you’re thinking about expanding your business to reach people in other countries: customers, contacts and potential business partners who might all speak different languages to you. People buy in their native language, so it is important to communicate with them in their mother tongue. This presents a challenge that you might not have faced before: you now need to start translating your content. What potential problems might you come across?

What are common problems getting a good translation?

If you’re not sure where to start, trying to make sure you get a good translation can feel like a bit of a minefield. That’s okay, we can help. Here are a few challenges you might come across:

  • Price. There’s no getting away from the importance of price when thinking about a good translation. It might be tempting to go for the cheapest option, or even ask a bilingual colleague to translate for free, but this won’t get you the results that you want. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, so it might be worth paying a bit extra for expertise and professionalism. If you’re unsure, talk to your translator or translation agency to discuss what approach to translation would best suit your budget and your goals. 
  • Localization. This is a professional way of saying: make sure you know who you’re talking to, and where they are. Be specific: do you want to translate into Spanish for Spain or for Latin America? French for France or for Canada? Along with linguistic differences, there may also be key cultural issues that have to be considered.
  • Inconsistency. If you’ve found a translator or an agency that you’re happy with, it would be a good idea to stay with them for future translations, so that your brand voice stays consistent in the foreign language. For example, you get translator A to translate your marketing emails, and translator B does your website, but they’re from two different agencies so neither have a record of your preferred terminology. They both translate your product differently, so now you’ve got one product with two different names and a very confused target audience. It’s not ideal. If your translations are of a more technical nature, sticking with the same translator(s) can also ensure that your technical terms and product names are translated in the same way across multiple projects and documents. Over time, a good translator or translation agency will compile a database of previously translated content, so they might be able to re-use phrases from previous work, which will save you money too!

Why is translation so difficult to get right?

There’s a common misconception that anyone who can speak more than one language can translate, or even that Google Translate will do the job just fine. It’s true that machine translation is starting to progress past those clunky, sometimes-hilarious sentences provided by free online engines. But they often fail to provide a translation of any sort of quality. They do not catch common translation problems that might make or break a text. Here’s just a few criteria that every good translation must meet: 

  • Respects the author. It’s really that simple: one of the qualities of a good translation is that the translator stays true to the original meaning of the text. The content you have created has meaning that goes beyond the words on the page – there might be word play, double meanings and cultural references in your carefully crafted text. 
  • Respects the reader. It’s important to consider who will be reading the text. Potential customers? Business partners? Social media followers? Your expert translator will be aware of the potential translation problems that they might come up against when translating your content for a particular audience, such as specific localisation considerations, tone of voice, and the level of technical terminology.
  • Doesn’t sound like a translation. This is one area especially where Google Translate is not your friend. Nobody wants to read a text that has something off about it – the word order sounds strange and there are turns of phrase that make no sense. A good translation is an effortless read that could trick your target audience into thinking that the content was written specially for them. 

However, there are times when a little bit of an exotic twist in your translation could help you out. Volkswagen’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ uses its German-ness to hint at its engineering prowess. We all know it’s cidre not just any old cider, and English is used across the globe to show how trendy the foreign product is. However, these techniques only work when used cleverly, and simply leaving your text in a foreign language will not do the trick. A good translation uses the original language of the text to its advantage, to springboard from and create something even better. A good translation uses the original text creatively, create the best line of communication between you and your intended audience.

What type of translation is the most difficult?

It’s important to acknowledge what type of translation you need, so that you can make sure your chosen translator or translation agency has the required expertise. Every type of translation has its own individual difficulties, due to the overall purpose or practicalities surrounding the translation process. If your text is of a technical nature, perhaps a manual instructing the reader on how to assemble a piece of machinery, then you need absolute accuracy and clarity. If your text is a piece of literature, the translator will need to think about hidden meanings and the general style of the language. If you are trying to attract your customer’s attention with a marketing text or press release, then perhaps persuasive, attention-grabbing language and consistency in handling things like product names and advertising slogans might be some of the most important factors to consider. A subtitler has strict character limits and timings to follow, so they might opt for a condensed translation. Every text will present its own unique challenges, which is why it’s best to make sure you’ve hired an expert.

How to solve translation problems 

There are many ways to trip up in the search for a good translation. The best way to solve these common problems, or better still, avoid them altogether, is to make sure you choose the right translation partner. They will be aware of any issues your text might present, and they will have an expert translator ready to do the job. They will also make sure that your text reads fluently and retains every bit of information.

Find out more about the types of translation services we offer, and contact us now at post@planetlanguages.com or +44 (0) 1252 713 444.