How to prepare your texts for translation
When you send a document to an agency for translation, there’s a perfectly understandable desire for it to be a fire-and- forget process. After all, this is one of the major benefits of outsourcing translation work: the translation agency offers its specialist expertise, while you concentrate on your core business. And the agency will do everything in its power to make that possible: sourcing the right translator for the job, organising the workflow, taking care of QA and much more besides. However, translation has always been more art than science, and occasionally unexpected issues do crop up over the course of the translation process. Resolving these issues can be a potentially time-consuming process, if they’re particularly complicated or if there is no established process between the agency and the customer for dealing with them. This means that there are a few things translation customers can do which will keep such issues to a minimum and help them to be swiftly resolved if and when they do arise.
A good text makes for a good translation
When writing a document in-house, it can be incredibly valuable to think about the translation to come, and what might be involved in adapting your text for another readership. The most important thing you can do is to try to write clear, unambiguous text that flows well and has a clear line of argument. A good translator can always handle ambiguities in meaning, but ambiguity is rarely a desirable feature of a text. This is partly because one quirk of the translation process is that sometimes vagueness can be amplified. An idea simply left unfinished in one language might look like a hole in your argument in another – and since neither of these options is particularly desirable, it’s definitely worth editing your writing carefully and making it as clear and focused as possible. There’s a nice bonus here in that, in many ways, this is just good writing advice. Keeping your writing clear and precise will help the translators who look at your document after you finish it, but it will also help everyone who reads it in the source language, as well. Everyone wins!
Incidentally, none of this is to suggest that you should ‘dumb down’ your document at all. If you think the language you’re using might be unclear even to native speakers, then by all means, edit away – but you should resist the temptation to simplify your language or your argument just for the sake of non-native readers. It’s not necessary, since a professional translator will always have perfect comprehension of their source language. After all, if any unclear sections do slip through, they can always ask you about them.
On call when needed
On that note, it’s always helpful to make the original author of a document available to answer any questions that translators might have. It’s quite common for elements of a document to need clarification – sometimes to confirm the precise meaning of a particular section, but for other reasons too. For example, a translator might want to offer a few different possible translations for a headline, to see which one the author prefers or which one best captures their original intent. Occasionally, a translator might find a potential error in the source text, in which case they can liaise with the original author in order to correct it and discuss any implications for the translation. In general, having the original author on hand rather than any other given contact makes it much easier for translators to understand something which might not be explicitly spelt out in the document itself, and which might potentially require highly specialist knowledge to answer.
Another useful way of supplying specialist information is to make as much reference material available to translators as possible. Style guides, glossaries, corporate messaging guidelines, translation memories, older editions of the same document, web links… anything and everything that provides context and linguistic precedent could be potentially useful to your translators. Even if it seems like it might be more material than is strictly necessary for any given job, it doesn’t hurt to offer everything you can: a translator might not always have the time to go through every reference document line by line, but electronic documents are easy to search, which means that translators can quickly find out, for example, whether a given term or turn of phrase has been used before.
Once the linguistic preparation is out of the way, it’s also helpful to leave as much time as possible for the job to be done properly. Naturally, the nature of business is that urgent rush jobs are sometimes unavoidable, but they’re never ideal. Since it’s impossible to know whether a given job might present more issues than are apparent at first glance, offering a little deadline flexibility can go a long way towards guaranteeing the very best results for a finished document. More time to complete the job means more time for QA, more time to get the phrasing just right, more time to find the perfect translator for the job – and all of these things, though seemingly small, can have a big impact on the final product. There are always ways to make a translation happen faster, of course, such as splitting up a job across multiple linguists who work on a project in parallel – but the best results almost always come from a single translator or a small, tightly-knit team who are working at their own pace.
All of these tips can go a long way towards improving the quality and reliability of the translations you receive – and the best thing about them is that they really don’t require big changes to the way most businesses already work. A document is always inextricably linked to the business that originally produced it, so tweaking your internal processes slightly can produce impressive results. In short, it’s a question of optimisation, not reinventing the wheel. So why not give it a go? If you try some of these little tricks yourself, we’re sure you’ll agree that the benefits are clear to see.