4 things you should expect from your translator – and why it matters

Businesspeople commissioning a translation may not always know what they can expect. The best translators can do a really excellent job for you, and you should insist on it. Here are 4 things you should expect from your translator.

1) Translate only into their mother tongue

Crafting fresh, crisp, completely natural prose in a foreign language is hard. Very hard. Only native speakers with a flair for writing have an ear for nuance, for what sounds right, for which words go together and which don’t.

Sooner or later, someone translating into a foreign language will use a phrase out of place or write something unintentionally ambiguous, distracting the readers from your intended message with a linguistic slip. It could be enough to sow doubts in their mind about how serious you are about quality.

It’s true that translating into a foreign language can be the only option in some cases. For example, Mongolian-to-Greek translators must be a rare breed, so they can be excused for translating Greek to Mongolian too. It’s also true that plenty of native speakers don’t write that well.

But if you aim to persuade or sell, to impress or entertain, then the skill of the best native speaker offers you the surest chance of success.

2) Use consistency-checking software

Translators focus closely on every word: it’s a very concentrated job. But translators are humans, and humans have a limited short-term memory. So when we read through our text, we might not realise that we’ve translated a term in one way on page 1 and in another way on page 11. Or that we’ve spelled the same word differently in two places.

But your customer might.

Unless, that is, we employ software tools – terminology checkers and editing consistency programmes – that handle this for us.

Translators who use them can assure you a higher quality text that will get your message across more effectively and help maintain your reputation.

3) Ask questions

Some words have more than one shade of meaning (and the finer points can often be very important, especially when you’re trying to shape a brand image). Some sentences are simply not clear – the people who wrote them knew exactly what they meant but didn’t realise that others might interpret them differently or might not know all the background context.

So your translator will probably need to clarify a few points. They’ll ask a question or two.

Having to answer these queries may seem like a pain, but the translator is actually looking out for your interests. If a question goes unasked, the translation may contain an error or give the wrong impression. Better to address the issue straight away than publish a mistake.

Translators who never ask probably just resort to guesswork.

4) Adapt the translation where necessary

Your original text may contain cultural references that readers of the translation would not understand. Perhaps its wordplay simply does not transfer.

In situations like these, a good translator will use their creative skills to adapt the translation to include a different play on words or a reference that resonates with the readers while still making perfect sense in the context.

Just because it cannot be translated literally does not mean that it cannot be translated at all.

We’re nearly done, but here’s a bonus 5th thing you should expect from your translator.

A good translator can write attractively and engagingly. There is no reason whatsoever why a translation should feel awkward or disjointed; if the reader can tell that it’s a translation, then it wasn’t translated well enough.

There is no such thing as “only a translation”; your overseas readers deserve more – and so do you.

Your business may depend on it.