Language services 101: a beginners’ guide to the jargon
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Different types of language services and when you might need them

language services

The language services industry can sometimes feel murky and jargon-riddled – just as we discussed in our last article, What’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter?.

Now that we’ve cleared the air around most agencies’ flagship services, it’s time to take a look at some of the other offerings you might see from professional language service providers.

Proofreading, editing and reviewing

And so we start with the thickest, most impenetrable jargon-jungle of all. If you’ve ever felt confused about the distinction between these three language services, don’t despair: to be honest, it’s rare to find any two agencies who agree on the exact definition of each. That’s not to say all hope of understanding is lost, however. The key is just to make sure, when negotiating a deal involving any of these services, that both you and the service provider understand exactly what’s required.

Broadly speaking, all three of these services fall under the category of “making text better”; the difference is really just a matter of the context and scope of the services to be offered. It’s generally understood that proofreading is a less extensive service than editing; different people draw the line in different places, but things like spelling,grammar and style checks fall towards the ‘proofreader’ end of the spectrum, while questions of terminology and content are considered more of an editor’s job. A proofreader is handy for doing a final check on a document you’re already pretty confident about, or maybe something for internal use only, while an editor is ideal for top-quality, highly-visible texts which need to be absolutely perfect in every way. Editing can bedone by subject matter experts. For example, a medical text can be edited by a medical specialist and a legal text by a lawyer. Technical texts are usually edited by technically trained translators or linguistically experienced engineers.

Reviewing, meanwhile, is a little bit of both of the above, with a few extra services added on top. A reviewer might check someone else’s translation, correcting things like spelling and readability issues while also confirming that the document is faithful to its original-language version. Alternatively, they might adapt a text for a different market – converting US English to UK English, for example, paying as much attention to things like cultural references as to the ‘U’s in ‘colour’. Whatever their exact role, reviewers are – like proofreaders and editors – an important part of the quality-control process when producing or localising documents.

Copywriting

Don’t let the name catch you off guard: copywriters don’t copy others’ writing, they write copy! “Copy” in a publishing context means text created from scratch: in other words, if you want some brand-new documents written, instead of translating something from a foreign language, a copywriter is the person you want. Maybe you’re looking to launch a new product (or a new business entirely), maybe you’re entering a new market and want to address your new customers in a style that suits their unique expectations. Whatever the case, if you need something completely fresh, a professional copywriter will produce it quickly and efficiently, with a style and flair to suit your business.

Subtitling

Localising video for foreign-language markets is tough work. In an ideal world, we’d translate every script, re-cast every actor, hire one film crew after another, and re-shoot every video for every language we want it to be seen in. But, of course, that’s not always realistic once you factor in things like financial, logistical and time constraints. Instead, you can hire a translator to work through your video and provide text captions in the translator’s native language.

Alternatively, you might want to add subtitles in the video’s current language. This is called same-language captioning, and it can be used to improve the accessibility of your video or make it suitable for showing in places where people might not be able to hear the audio. And once you have same-language subtitles, it’s easy to produce a translated version at a later date.

In all of these cases, it’s important to remember that subtitling is a specialist job. It’s not enough to simply copy the script word-for-word when you also have to consider issues like the audience’s reading speed and how much text will fit on the screen (without obscuring the view!). As a result, it’s important to make sure you work with someone who can do the job properly: a good agency will help you find a specialist who understands both the proper working method and your own subject matter.

Monolingual transcription

Transcription is a little like subtitling, but in a different format and for a different purpose. To transcribe a video or audio clip is, in the simplest sense, to write down the words exactly as they are spoken. The end result is a script that can be read entirely separately from the original clip while still making sense – and with no information missing, unlike subtitling, where it’s occasionally necessary to paraphrase a little for the sake of readability. Transcription can be used for a vast range of purposes by anyone who works with audio or video: just to name two examples, it can be the first step in translating a video clip, or it can provide a text version of a live speaker’s presentation, to be handed out as supplementary material during or after the speech. Transcripts can even be used in archiving: just associate them with a recorded audio or video clip in your database, and you have the makings of a machine-readable, searchable collection of recordings.

Transcreation

Sometimes you want more than a simple translation job, especially if you’re translating top-quality marketing material with a local flair. But if hiring a copywriter doesn’t sound quite right to you, you might want something that isn’t completely divorced from the original text. This is where transcreation specialists shine. They walk the fine line between preserving the style and content of the source material, and creating something for a new market with different standards. Transcreation is a creative and demanding job requiring the very best of translation and copywriting skills, and consequently it can often produce the very best results. This language service is ideal for front-line marketing material such as websites, product brochures and advertising campaigns.

Software localisation

We don’t wish to suggest that translation is an easy job: quite the opposite, it’s a highly-skilled career that takes years of training and experience to master. However, some projects can add additional layers of complexity, requiring an even broader skill set and so often demanding an entire team of specialists to complete. The translation and localisation of IT projects is one such example.

Giant multimedia projects are always a massive undertaking in their own right, so it’s easy to see why adapting them into a new language can be just as much work as creating them in the first place. In fact, projects like these can involve all of the services we’ve mentioned above, and more besides. Unlike printed material, software translation doesn’t end with a Word document or an InDesign file: at the very least, interface strings have to be updated and the software must be recompiled. Sometimes more extensive work is needed: it may be necessary to update the software to support a new character set or reading direction, for example. This is why projects like these require everyone involved to give their very best. The time and effort involved can sometimes be enormous, but the end result –a shiny new software package, ready to wow a whole new market – can make it all worthwhile.

That just about wraps up our coverage of language service types for now, but if there’s one final piece of advice we can offer, it’s this: whenever you’re negotiating a deal with a language service provider, talk to them as clearly and openly as possible. Knowing the jargon is great, but don’t feel like you have to rely exclusively on it. The more you can explain about your needs and expectations for a project, the easier it will be for your LSP to develop a bespoke offer that suits your unique circumstances. And that’s a situation where everyone benefits: your partner, your customers, and most of all, yourself.

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