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The Vida Agency

4 key considerations when translating language for business

text words have power.

Language fluency is not usually seen as a privilege. As native English speakers, we go about our daily lives in a world that innately makes sense as we read, write, and speak. The reality of a diverse society is that many people aren’t presented with their native language as they take in information throughout the day. As globalization skyrockets and our society continues to diversify, equal access to information is more important than ever.  

Although some have argued that the rise of AI and auto-translation will diminish human translation services, studies reveal otherwise. So why does the value of human translation prosper amid the development of potentially job-replacing technology?  

At the end of the day, language is innately human. It is developed by humans, spoken by humans, understood by humans, and varies globally depending on dialect, culture and context. Businesses that understand this will have a much easier time reaching their audience by providing human-centric, thoughtful, and respectful communication.  

Here are 4 important considerations when providing translation for business:  

Go beyond word-by-word translation

The true value of human translation is the presence of a brain and heart behind the translated text. Don’t let this go to waste by forgetting to assess for untranslatable words, words that might mean something drastically different in the translated language, or terms or acronyms that don’t require translation.  

Another major advantage of human translation is the translator’s ability to capture meaning beyond the text. Think back to the last hilarious article you read in The New Yorker or an emotional obituary. Word-to-word translation is not able to convey the feeling of that communication, and this principle applies across all languages.  

Apply the critical eye of a marketer  

As communication professionals our written work goes far beyond writing a grammatically correct sentence. We consider tone, audience, brevity, and more. It’s important to apply the critical eye of a marketer to a translated text to assure the piece is respectful and true to the native language.  

For example, when written, Spanish is 25 percent longer than English. This affects the space needed on a marketing asset and the time it takes to read – two very important components. Understanding this can be the difference between an effective translation and one that is lost on the audience.  

Consider the whole context of a project  

It’s also important to consider the entire scope of a project and the intended impact on the audience. Ask yourself – are there any differences in the way the text would be translated for casual vs. professional purposes? In Spanish, for example, an entirely different tense is used for professional communications. Failure to translate this correctly is painfully obvious to native speakers.  

Secondly, consider the design and delivery of the translated information. Colors and symbols can mean very different things to different cultures and it’s important to be thoughtful of how these might translate. For example, Chinese culture sees red as a symbol of luck and prosperity. Therefore, it might be perceived as culturally insensitive to use red as a primary color for a project to communicate construction updates that the audience opposes.  

Think about all possible pathways to information  

Finally, the translation shouldn’t stop at the end of the paragraph. Consider all pathways from the translated communication such as calls-to-action, use for social media and websites, or call numbers. These destinations should be available in the speaker’s native language to provide a seamless experience for the audience.  

From beginning to end, put the native speaker first to assure they have full access to the intended information and no roadblocks to understanding your communication.  

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