If you are a buyer of translations and want those translations to be the best fit for your purposes, there is one fact in particular that you should be aware of:
Translations aren’t a one-way street.
The better you communicate your needs and expectations, the better you will be served.
How can you easily ensure your translation provider gives you what you are looking for?
Buying translations can be a pain. Especially if you don’t have a trusted translation service provider who knows your company, products, services, positioning, branding, tone of voice etc. inside out.
Lacking such a trusted source, you may just turn to one of the big translation company names to play it safe. Surely, those big names will have all the quality control processes down to a tee, right?
They most likely have.
But do you know what these quality control processes actually check for?
Here is a typical list:
- Use of client glossary (if provided)
- Consistent terminology
- Completeness/no omissions
- No misunderstandings
- No spelling or grammar mistakes
- Correct use of punctuation, date and measurement conventions
Looks great, you’d think, right? What more could there possibly be to check?
I will get back to that question in a moment.
As a buyer of translations, you may be accustomed to sending reference material (previous translations that your teams are happy with) and glossaries. Most reputable language services companies will ask for those.
What these language services companies don’t usually ask for though, and hardly ever communicate to their freelancers – the people who actually do the translations – is what I simply call Client Expectations.
Client Expectations = Client Brief
In all of the workshops that I have run over the years, even in-house ones for translation teams of large corporations, the biggest frustration most participants voiced was typically something like this:
“I provided a translation that passed all our internal translation quality checks, but the client thought the translation was poor.”
How could that happen? And why?
Answer: A client may have very specific expectations as to what she wants to get. Have another look at the quality control list above: It has a bullet point that says “fluency/style”, but doesn’t specify that any further. As we all know, “style” can be many things and is often in the eye of the beholder.
But the beholder – the client – hasn’t communicated any of those stylistic expectations to the translator (except maybe something unspecific like “it shouldn’t sound like a translation”) so the translator will have to rely on his or her own best judgment.
Here are two examples to illustrate how this can go wrong:
Real-world case 1:
A company wanted an English magazine article translated into German. The article had a couple of sarcastic headlines and sublines, which worked well, apparently, with the UK audience. The translation team faithfully rendered the text in the same sarcastic way in German. All quality control boxes were checked: terminology, completeness, misunderstandings, mistakes, fluency.
Still, the client returned the translation with the comment: “Too literal. Not a good style. Not what we expected.”
Note that he only commented on style. Plus “not what we expected.” But how was the translator supposed to know what that client expected? It turned out the client wanted the sarcasm toned down and some rearrangement of sentences for a more localized feel (which is a service I refer to as a transcreation rather than a translation). He thought the sarcasm wouldn’t work well with a German audience. The target text was reworked with this feedback in mind, and the client was very happy with the result.
Real-world case 2:
The communication department of an international bank had begun a series of blog posts by guest contributors. A French post was to be translated into German. “Please translate this by next Thursday” was the only instruction given.
The German translation team worked diligently, slightly toning down the flowery language of the French source text, as in their experience, it would come across as slightly awkward in a German business context. Being an in-house team and knowing what their in-house client usually expected, they adapted the text somewhat to make it appealing to a German audience.
Again, all quality control boxes checked out: terminology, completeness, misunderstandings, mistakes, fluency.
Yet the translation was returned with the comment: “We are unhappy with this. It’s not at all what we expected. What happened to the flowery language?”
See the irony?
In Case 1, the client complained that the translation was not good because, in their view, it was too faithful.
In Case 2, the client complained that the translation was not good because, in their view, it wasn’t faithful enough.
So, as you can see – client expectations vary widely, and there is only one way to ensure the translation team you hire meets those expectations:
As a client, you need to communicate your expectations
Tell your translation provider what the translated text is going to be used for, where it is going to be published, who you want to reach, what the goal of it is (inform, entertain, get people to subscribe, …), what tone of voice you want it to have (or if you would like to discuss recommendations that your translation provider has), how faithful you want the final target text to be to the source text, and any other useful background information. These points (and more) are what I call a Client Brief. (I have written extensively about the aspects that such a brief should cover, and even present a customizable model in my book).
Not all translations need a full brief, but I can assure you that even a seemingly straight-forward text benefits from providing the translation team with as much background information as you can give.
Extra work? Not at all!
If you are a translation buyer, or a go-between, this may seem like extra work, but in fact it is going to save you work. You will quickly realize that it’s easier and faster to provide such information upfront than having to return a translation and have it redone for “not meeting expectations.”
In the long run, you will prevent potentially nerve-racking back-and-forth processes, save time and money, and enjoy a much smoother client-supplier-relationship.
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