by Manuel Herranz
Writing content and distributing knowledge to international audiences can present a number of challenges. The first one is for management to understand the value and ROI of multilingual content and translation into several languages. The second is for the brand itself (that is staff, from production to accounting) to believe they work for international markets. They need to be convinced that their salaries and the company’s revenue come from people that speak other languages and whose only affinity to them is the brand. Thirdly, traditional channels for the distribution of quality translations need to be complemented (or substituted) by the company’s website as a hub for multilingual knowledge, social media, etc.
But we might call those three points the fundamentals. They are prerequisites. I would like to deal with some other points that brands can often miss when writing content for international audiences. This is a short guide to help marketing and sales personnel, website masters be sure they don’t make any mistakes when they need to translate a website in multiple languages and distribute the brand’s content worldwide.
#1: Content preparation and planning
The original content is directed to a particular audience, normally the “home” audience. Spending a bit of time adapting the source material from the very outset, a brand will save time, money and resources in translation. A direct translation only works in the case of instruction manuals. Content needs to be adapted to different target markets, from place names to headline titles, and from really relevant content to expressions, currencies, measurements, even content that will not require translation, because it is simply not relevant as a Spanish translation, or for an Italian audience.
Avoid cultural references. They often do not have a good translation, at least one that conveys the full meaning and translators will have to look for alternatives. Even though the translators are fully professional, the relevance may also be lost for an international audience. For example, reference to “home runs” if you have written content for US audiences will not translate well into other languages. Expressions such as “taking the bull by the horns” or “going the Full Monty” (as a reference to the film), etc., may translate more or less well from English into some European languages that are culturally close within the context of a business environment, but they will mean nothing in China, Japan or Korea.
#2: Consolidate a writing style
Avoid sentences over 25 words long: short and clear sentences always read better. This does not mean they have to be simple. A wide vocabulary will improve SEO rankings as variety looks more natural for search engine algorithms. Short and clear sentences will also reflect in clear translations. Brevity is your ally. You will save in translation and localization or cultural adaptation.
#3: Use editable files
This will help save everybody’s time when it comes to exporting material from a document and importing it back in. If you cannot provide editable files, or graphics have been vectorized, the process of localization will take more time and it will hit your pocket, too. The same happens when working with scanned PDFs or PDFs that cannot be edited. There are ways to solve these issues, true. But they are all workarounds to create another source file. Surely somebody in the content creation chain must have some original, editable files. This also underpins the requirement for careful planning above because we are using somebody’s time. Creating a company database or brand repository can avoid very serious headaches!
#4: Manage graphics with care
Sometimes, illustrations, graphics and images contain text. If they don’t, they will obviously not require editing for translation. If they have text, they may or may not require translation. Therefore, they should be classified in order to avoid a DTP operator or Project Manager checking each one of them. This will speed editing and localization.
Ideally, text inside an image should be kept to a minimum. A lot of text means a new layered source file and the translated text restored as a separate layer, which means more desktop publishing work, and more hours. Sometimes, localization in right-to-left languages means creating a brand new illustration file.
Lastly, a working tip: images should never be embedded in a publication – linking is a much better option to make files lighter.
#5: Terminology is important – Ignore it at your own risk
Translating high volumes of content into several languages means managing teams of translators. And even for small volumes, you may need several teams (Japanese translators, a team of French and German translators, etc.)
Availability in these teams may play a part in your publication quality, because nobody can guarantee the same translator will be available all the time. However, companies need to be consistent across all their multiple channels and day after day, month after month. This can only be achieved if the translation house or the brand’s managers work with an official glossary or terminology database. Even a simple Excel file will suffice – it is up to the translation firm to employ professional tools to make these terminology assets available to its translators. This can be done online or by supplying the terminology with the job, even pre-translating.
If content is king, terminology is queen, as they say. A well-managed terminology will also ensure the speedy delivery of every translation project and reduce the time proofreaders / reviewers take to validate the final version before release.
#6: Changes and additions are unavoidable – do not micromanage
We go back to content preparation again. A final document is one translation job, while multiple changes or edits mean starting and stopping the process and translators in every language. The translation company should have a system for tracking changes, but in the language industry this means human intervention. It means multiple emails and calls… even if for one word. Changes should be requested in batches or in stages to avoid working with multiple versions of a document.
Some translation and localization costs really cost a lot more than they should because of the excessive iterations.