Show time! 6 tips for top exhibition translations

The exhibition “Numbers. Everything that counts” had its official opening at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni yesterday, and yours truly was there, rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. It was exciting to see the information panels that I had translated up there on the walls, next to the beautiful exhibits, imaginatively presented. For me, it was just what an exhibition should be – fascinating, enjoyable, food for thought.


An exhibition is, in a way, a performance. It aims to engage, to inspire, to entertain. And in a major international tourist destination like Rome, it needs to do all those things not just in the local language but for foreign visitors, too. Which is why you need translations, good translations, translations that engage, inspire and entertain.

To achieve that, here are 6 essential tips –

  • Select your translator with care. You need a native-speaking professional translator, one who has the writing skills to explain the material with clarity, wit and style. And you don’t get that for €16/page.
  • Have all the texts translated to the same standard. Maybe different departments – or different organisations, even – are responsible for the information panels, the captions, the guidebook, the promotional leaflets, the Facebook page, the website, the video clips and the software apps. If so, then you will obtain the best, most consistent results if they all liaise together and use the same translator. You don’t want to undermine an impressive website with poor information panels, or vice versa.
  • Don’t forget the title. Titles may seem easy, but they are all too easy to mess up. Titles are both very high profile – in big letters over the entrance door, splashed over the internet, etc. – so it’s vital to get them right. And besides, they often involve wordplay and double meanings, so you must ensure that the result reflects that. Don’t undermine all your good work by using a title that turns out to have embarrassing, unwanted double entendres.
  • Provide the pictures. As I said in my article on how to achieve optimum results with any translation project, you need to provide your translator with the images. Try describing a visual object that you can’t see, and you’ll realise what the problem is. If the words don’t match the pictures, the effect will be jarring, and the visitors will notice immediately.
  • Get the audioguide and any audio accompaniment translated and recorded by an articulate, mellifluous-toned native speaker. I know just the man.
  • Proofread the final typeset texts in English – any typos will be up there on the wall for all to see for months on end, blotting an otherwise perfect presentation.

And, as a “bonus” 7th tip, give your translator a credit as part of the team. There’s nothing like a bit of recognition to inspire translators to do their very best and to find that special, exquisite expression that makes it all fall into place. That makes visitors say “è la prima mostra che vedo in Italia con le traduzioni fatte bene” (“it’s the first exhibition I’ve seen in Italy with proper translations”), as someone happily did about “Numbers”.

Because it’s show time, remember?