Preparing your copy for translation: 7 tips for success

Preparing your copy for translation: 7 tips for success

January 21, 2020 By Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo Resources

The sign of a great translation is one that does not appear to be a translation—it reads as though it were originally written in the reader’s primary language. This is why, although many stellar translators can translate into their non-native language, the industry standard tends to be that professional translators translate only into their native language(s). This is your best chance for creating a text that reads smoothly and without any trace of influence from other languages.

Perhaps this is the first tip in preparing your text for translation. Find a professional translator who translates into his/her native language and who specializes in the type of content you plan to write. Yes, that’s right. Just as copywriters specialize in niche areas or fields, so do professional translators, editors, and proofreaders.

You might think it’s best to write your source text first and then find a professional translator. But I’d like to suggest that if you do the opposite, you can actually gain some insight into the target language (i.e., the language into which your copy will be translated) and how certain topics or nuances in a text might be tricky to translate. After all, a great translation should always portray the spirit of the original message, not just the words themselves. This is why automated translation is not, and will probably never be, good enough for a professionally written text. An automated tool cannot comprehend the nuances of language. Humans can, and do.

Here are seven tips to consider when preparing your translation team and your copy for translation:

  1. Tell the translation team about the purpose/goal of the copy.
  2. Discuss the ideal reader of the copy.
    1. What is his/her background and previous knowledge that might affect how he/she receives or comprehends the text?
  3. Give the translation team a style guide to follow and be prepared to discuss anything that might not work as well in the target language once translated.
    1. For example, you’ll want to consider punctuation that might be different in the target language. What might be considered a run-on sentence in English is often quite acceptable in Romance languages.
  4. In addition to—or perhaps included in—the style guide mentioned above, discuss any words, terms, or phrases that are never to be used.
    1. For example, I once had to translate a text for a center for domestic abuse victims. We came up with a glossary of terms that were best practice to use when writing copy about domestic abuse for a domestic abuse victim.
  5. Consider active vs. passive voice in your text.
    1. If you have a strong preference, discuss this with the translation team. In Spanish, for example, passive voice tends to be used much more than in English. If this could affect the spirit of the message in your copy, discuss this beforehand.
  6. Also consider the use of formal vs. informal language, especially with pronouns.
    1. To give another example in Spanish, copy written with the Spanish tú (you, informal) is often seen in marketing texts or in very informal situations, whereas usted (you, formal) is used in more formal copy.
  7. Work closely with the translation team before it begins the translation process and make yourself available for questions during the process.
    1. A great translation team will ask questions about the copy, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. It’s better to answer questions during the process itself than to have them get (literally) lost in translation.

Once you discuss your goals with the translation team, it’s time to prepare your copy. Think about the ideal reader of the translated text and whether the reader is demographically the same as, or similar to, the reader of your source language text. Make edits as needed. Share as much information about the readers with the translation team as you possibly can. They may be able to provide some insight on readers of the target language copy that could affect the way the copy is handled.

Write the text knowing that the translated version may be longer (or shorter) than the source text. For example, in English-to-Spanish translations, the Spanish text tends to be up to 30 percent longer than the English one. Bear this in mind when it comes to guidelines for your copy.

Be sure to point out any idioms, nuances, etc., to the translation team before they begin the process of translation. Some may not translate well, and most will almost certainly not translate word for word from the source text. You may want to come up with a couple ofchoices for the translation team to work with when it comes time to translate these particular bits of copy.

Just as there is no magic formula for writing great copy in the first place, there is no magic formula for creating a superb translation. Both take time, expertise, patience, and experience. So, before you send off a text to be translated, consider the points above and have a real conversation with a professional about the text. Your readers (and translators everywhere) will thank you!

Header Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Madalena Sánchez Zampaulo is a Spanish- and Portuguese-to-English translator and the owner of Accessible Translation Solutions. She is President-Elect of the American Translators Association (ATA) and a consultant for the University of Louisville Graduate Certificate in Translation.

Preparing your Copy for Translation: 7 Tips for Success was originally published in Tracking Changes (Winter 2019 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.

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