Potential Problems of Native Speakers

Many companies assume that they can rely on overseas distributors or in-house native speakers to translate their documentation or localize their website content. And of course your people will always say that their translations are correct. But if you don’t speak the language yourself, how will you really know? Can most Americans write a good English paragraph? Can they spell without a spell checker? Do most write with proper grammar? You know the answers. So why assume that your distributors or native speakers can write any better in their native languages?

Are they using some non-standard regional dialect from where they grew up? One company’s German employee wrote its brochures in German … but in his dialect near the Swiss border. And that definitely is not considered standard, professional language.

Have your distributors or native speakers chosen words correctly? In one case we reviewed, the in-house speaker used the term for “salad oil” instead of the intended “motor oil.” Another client asked us to write the simple term, “Happy Easter” in Vietnamese. The version their speaker provided effectively said, “Celebrate Easter.” That’s not the same meaning. Yet another high-tech client’s Chinese speaker translated “silicon wafer” as “silicon biscuit.”

Or consider what big difference a small comma can make as in, “The goal is to try, Max” vs. “The goal is to try Max.” In this second instance, does “try” mean to take Max to court or does it mean to give him a chance at something? (Or “to give him a go” as British English would say). Without context, you simply don’t know. And this is why language agencies provide certainty or at least know what clarifications to ask from the writer.

All these small examples demonstrate why it’s important for your firm to control your message and to use professional, subject-specialized translators. If you do rely on others, always ask your professional language agency to review their edits first. Your agency is your ally and will catch these kinds of mistakes quickly …. saving your company’s image and reputation in the process.

 

Language Myths and Realities, Part 2: Software & Overseas Distributors

This article is the second in a series to expose some common myths about rendering languages so that your firm can do it right … and gain more revenue targeting ethnic and global markets correctly.

4. Translation Software will work just fine.

Also known as Machine Translation (MT), translation software has its purposes. The main one is to get the gist of what something says for internal use. For external advertising, promotions or contracts — particularly for technical subjects — experienced users can attest that MT is at best 80 percent accurate. The issue becomes which 20 percent of your file you want to risk. MT works best when your file is not overly technical and has simple sentence structure.

A technical example of even fairly simple sentence structure is:

English: The latest trucks come equipped with gear-driven transmission and a 3-foot diameter heavy-duty wheel.

French from Google Translate: Les derniers camions sont équipés de la transmission à engrenages et d’un diamètre de 3 pieds roue lourds.

English back-translation of MT version: The last trucks are equipped with gear transmission and with a diameter of 3-foot heavy wheel [incorrect adjective ending of ”heavy”].

Moral of the story : When clear communications and accuracy are important, rely on a professional language service, not software.

5. Our in-country distributors will do the translations

Many global companies have adopted this approach and presume that it’s working fine. No doubt it is for some. But consider:

  1. How to do you know that each country’s distributor is translating your message in the same way? If your worldwide message and image are not uniform, you are diluting your brand.
  2. Since your products are selling well overseas, you assume that your agents’ translations must be good. Perhaps they are. But are they excellent or just “good enough?” And if they are “good enough”, does that mean your company is just average? What does that say about your reputation?If you do rely on your agents’ translations, a quality control is to ask a professional language service to back-translate their versions into English just to be sure. One of our wise clients asked us to do so. And discovered that her Danish distributor had inserted two warranty claims that the home office knew nothing about … and could have been liable for.
  3. How do you know that your overseas offices are not using regionalisms? One client’s distributor rewrote a Standard German brochure using his native Swiss dialect … a dialect not understood by the vast majority of German speakers for whom the brochure was intended. Another client’s rep in Vietnam translated his company’s website using the regionalisms in his upcountry, village dialect. That was not the standard speech of business, and resulted in far fewer sales than a professional translation would have yielded.
  4. How do you know that the versions your distributor translated (or got translated) have no typos, misspellings or wrong word usage?After all, how many Americans or Brits spell properly or can write well in English? Unfortunately, very few.
  • Have you at the home office checked your distributor’s version?
  • Are your foreign customers really going to tell you about mistakes?
  • Or will they simply conclude that if your overseas documentation lacks precision and professionalism, your products must also.One client relied on a China agent to translate his English IT brochure … only to discover that the word “wafer” in Chinese became “biscuit.”

Best Practices

Language industry Best Practices state that a company should consolidate all its translation work with one professional language service at the home or at the regional office. That agency will ensure that all translations are rendered correctly, quickly and uniformly, and with consistent terminology and cost-saving methods. What is your firm’s reputation worth?

Conclusion

Website localization and professional document translation services use a three-step process:

  1. initial translation by a target-language trained translator who speaks your industry vocabulary;
  2. second-translator, quality-assurance review to ensure correct acculturarion:  nuances, expressions, terminology and dialect; and
  3. proofreading for spelling, punctuation, grammar and formatting.

Professional linguists are trained in technical terminology, can translate your files correctly the first time, and generate revenue for you more quickly. Yes, it’s an upfront investment.

But damage to your reputation or brand and time-to-market delays are even more costly to repair. And always ask your professional language service for pricing options to meet your budget. Some are more flexible than others.

(Missed Part 1?  read here)

Language Myths and Realities, Part 3: Native Speaker Translations & Videos/CDs

This article is the third in a series to expose some common myths about rendering languages.

  • Part 1 discussed faulty assumptions about Localizing your Website as well as the Misuse of Volunteer Translators.
  • Part 2 discussed the Misuse of Translation Software and Reliance on Overseas Distributors or Sales Agents.

By exposing these common myths, we trust that your firm will gain more revenue by targeting ethnic and global markets correctly.

6. Translation Software will work just fine.

7. Our in-country distributors will do the translations

8. If a person can speak a language, he/she can translate it.

This myth was partially exploded in Parts 1 and 2. But it is important to reiterate it very clearly: Just because a person can speak a language does NOT mean that he or she can translate it.

The assumption may be true for conversational topics such as for foods, schooling, shopping or travel (“Do you have that dress in green?” or “Where is the station?”).

Americans: Be very careful when asking in another language the common question, “Where is the bathroom?” In American English, we say “to go to the bathroom” whereas British and Commonwealth speakers will say, “to go to the loo / the WC / the toilet.” Just as the latter sounds crude to delicate American ears, when you speak English to foreigners, they can easily misconstrue the American usage and point upward to the nearest hotel room. A “bath room” is the room where one takes a bath or a shower. The proper question is, “Where is the restroom?” or “Where is the men’s / ladies’ room?” Of course, if you know others’ languages, you have probably learned how to ask this critical question correctly.

Back to the point:

Translating (for written documentation) and interpreting (for spoken conversations) for most advanced business purposes require expertise in the specialized terminology of your industry. And that kind of knowledge comes from linguists who are professionally trained with a two-year master’s or advanced degree and/or a professional certification.

At the Monterey Institute, the foremost non-military, linguist-training school in the US, all students study translation. But interpreters branch off during their second year to focus on this more difficult specialty. All linguists also learn in their respective languages the most prevalent terminology in politics, economics, law and courts, healthcare / medicine, technology, history and literature to increase their domain and cultural knowledge.

Therefore, if your manuals, apps, website, contracts and conversations focus, for example, on food bacteria or aerospace, the specially trained linguists of a professional language service most likely to know your terminology and can do the job expertly.

Corporate Videos and CDs

Unlike nature videos with many pictures and few words, most corporate videos or CDs present training, manufacturing or sales processes that contain a lot of (rapid) speaking. But the process of localizing videos or CDs does not work the same as the original English.

French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian require about 20 percent more words than English does to convey the same concepts. While Chinese requires less, German, Russian, Japanese and other languages may require about 10 percent more. If your English narration is very tight, filling all the frames, and if your time is maxed at say three minutes, where are these extra words to go? Running subtitles to match rapid English could work … if you don’t want to allow your overseas clients enough time to read them.

Producing videos in other languages is therefore not a simple matter of translation. Your professional language service must also do some or all of the following:

  • Transcribe [write out] your narrative if no script exists;
  • Suggest how to edit down the transcript, deleting extraneous words and non-essential concepts;
  • Translate this client-approved, abridged [or full] version so that the language expansion will fit in the allotted time;
  • Acculturate the text per the foreign audience’s sensitivities. For example, we at Auerbach had to be mindful of presenting Catholic concepts in travel videos about Italian churches to Muslim audiences in Arabic. Similarly, we had to alter a CD on US sales methods because “cold calling” is not as common in Europe; and
  • Match the time codes of the full or abridged translation to the time codes of the original, producing a language version that captures the essence and retains the same time length.

In general, a subtitled CD is less expensive than a dubbed CD and a professional translation service can produce localized versions that incorporate the original music, graphics and other elements.

Voiceovers (dubbing) add an extra step of selecting talents. For each target language, localization services will ask you for your desired gender, age, tone and regional accent (if any) of voice-talent candidates. You will then be given two or three choices for each language.

And voiceovers have additional considerations:

  • While non-unionized talents suffice for most projects, very high-profile companies must determine whether to use only unionized voice talents; and
  • If your video/CD will be broadcast on TV or radio, talents’ charges are usually three times higher than those for non-broadcast purposes.

Best Practices

Language-industry Best Practices state that a company should consolidate all its translation work with one professional language service at the home or at the regional office. That agency will ensure that all your language projects are rendered correctly, quickly and uniformly, and with consistent terminology and cost-saving methods. What is your firm’s reputation worth?

Conclusion

Video localization and professional document translation services use a three-step process:

  1. Initial translation by a target-language professional translator who speaks your industry vocabulary;
  2. Quality-assurance review by a second professional translator to ensure correct nuances, expressions, acculturation, terminology and dialect; and
  3. Proofreading for spelling, punctuation, grammar and formatting.

Professional linguists are trained in technical terminology, can translate your files correctly the first time, and generate revenue for you more quickly. Yes, it’s an upfront investment.

But damage to your reputation or brand and time-to-market delays are even more costly to repair. And always ask your professional language service for pricing options to meet your budget. Some language agencies are more flexible than others.

4 Risky Scenarios: Why You should control your Message

The 4 Risky Scenarios

Who’s Controlling Your Message?

Over our 20 years in the language business, we have seen clients engage in four risky scenarios:

  1. They will say, “Our distributors do our translations.”
  2. They allow their overseas agents to review our translations without checking to see whether those edits are valid.
  3. They will ask a foreign-born employee to review our translations without ensuring that the employee is qualified.
  4. They will use translation software or machine translation for their promotional messages.

Consider the following:

  • A German distributor of a pumps company revised our translation … but in his native Swiss dialect. That is somewhat like sending your marketing in Cockney English. What does that say about your company’s reputation for excellence?
  • A Polish distributor of a telecom client reviewed our translated Polish manual…. and returned it with lots of spelling and grammar mistakes. Had it been printed without our final revision, what would that carelessness have said about the client’s image?
  • A US semiconductor firm allowed its Beijing distributor to create the company’s documentation in Chinese. But the US firm learned later that many concepts were not properly translated… such as saying “cookie” for “wafer.”
  • A Vietnamese employee in a client’s US office made lots of edits to our manuals… but she originated from a village and spoke a rural dialect, not the standard “educated” language. Had the client accepted those edits, its credibility in Vietnam would have been severely damaged.
  • A US real estate firm used software or an in-house translator to say that a house was located “overseas”. The Spanish translation became “altamar” which means “on the high seas.” Not quite the meaning of “abroad” ….  and not the best location for a house!
  • An industrial saw company asked its Mexican employee to review our brochure translation, then printed it, and sent it to Mexico. The distributor totally rejected it. What happened? The US company’s Mexican employee only had a 4th grade education… not the most reliable reviewer for high-level industrial terminology.
  • A prestigious hotel – on Jean St. near the Flood Tower — used Google Translate to prepare its website in 50+ languages to attract international clients. This created such classic phrases as “we are located at Saint John near the tower of inundations.”

Why Your Native Speakers Should Not Translate

Why Your Native Speakers Should Not Translate

(But they can still help save you money!)

Myth:

Anyone who speaks a language can translate or interpret it.

Reality:

Translation is a very difficult skill requiring many years of training, usually at the college and/or grad school level.

——————————————–

Your organization may have two kinds of people who speak other languages:

  • in-house native speakers such as engineers or sales reps or a person who “comes from there”; as well as
  • overseas distributors or agents.

In an understandable quest to save money, firms often rely on these native speakers to render brochures, websites, contracts, policies, etc. in other languages. IF these sources have expertise in your technical terminology and speak their native language well, they can be great assets in the process. But most likely their training is in Engineering, Selling, etc., not in the art of Translating.

Over 20 years, we have seen many cases where well-meaning, in-house native speakers or overseas agents:

Choose the wrong word…. Such as saying “salad oil” for “motor oil” (Oops!).

Do not speak technical terminology. If your in-house resource arrived here when he or she was 10, how well do you think he or she speaks Telecom, Technology, Wine or Window Dressings in his/her native language?

Write in their native dialect. This may be very localized, such as using Swiss German (which only the Swiss can understand) instead of “High German” which is the standard means of educated communication.

Use non-standard speech. This renders disastrous results when they have minimal education or come from some back-country village which has its own slang and terminology. How do you really know how properly your in-house resource speaks?

Misspell words or write (Chinese) characters incorrectly. After all, how many native English speakers know proper spelling (without using spell-checks)? What does that lack of attention to detail say about your company or image? And how does that negativity magnify if many words are misspelled?

Change your message. Most commonly, native speakers or overseas agents will add to, delete from or modify your original text in the target language … without informing you.

  1. First, those edits detract from any consistent messaging you seek across countries. And unified global branding is a critical part of your marketing image.
  2. And second, you don’t know what has been changed.
  • What if a seemingly “irrelevant” line for the target country is part of your marketing message or contact terms?
  • What if the agent mistakenly makes a claim you are not aware of?
  • Or miscalculates a measurement?
  • Or changes the meaning of a sentence?

In spite of disclaimers that the English version has priority, your company – not a suddenly disappearing employee, distributor or rep – can be liable if an overseas user of your product gets injured or dies.

Acculturate your text for the local market. While those changes are acceptable, without a back translation (into English or the originating language) you are not sure exactly what was changed. And any professional translation services or localization agency should have the in-country market knowledge to acculturate anyway.

Create the wrong meaning. On a promotion highlighting the benefits of garage doors, an in-country agent translated “added curb appeal” as “additional appeal of the curb.” Say what? How does that damage your image of excellence?

Other Obstacles to Success

Reliance on in-country contractors. Your agent may “get it translated” for you and you think you are saving money. But how will you know whether it is done correctly and professionally? Translations (as in any product) can be inconsistent or amateurish — such as when a contractor in China translated a semiconductor “wafer” as a “biscuit.” How does a poor version in one country damage your brand? What if that is replicated across other countries?

Reliance on Machine (Software) Translation (MT). This method is valid for certain kinds of texts in certain instances. Advertising – such as for your brochures, promotions and websites — is not one of them. For the most part, MT renders comical, imprecise, incorrect and often horrible results. While it may be better than nothing, MT too can damage your brand, image and reputation. What’s that worth to you? Do the savings of a few dollars offset the price of doing it correctly the first time?

DIY. Your agent may do the process him/herself. But agents do not have the software tools to ensure that terms are translated consistently throughout your piece or to discount projects that have lots of repeated text. And the agent may not understand nuances as well as you think.

Conclusion

Best Practices in the language business are for:

  1. (if desired) your qualified in-house native speakers who know your technology not to do the job themselves but to review a professional translation service’s submissions and to mark their changes on a .doc file.
  2. for you then to submit those changes back to the professional translation agency for evaluation. Most edits will be stylistic, i.e., alternative ways of saying the same concept. While those are acceptable, they slow the final approval process.

In short, the expertise of language agencies is Language. They know how to render your concepts quickly and accurately and with proper subject-specialized expressions, acculturation, nuances, term consistency and discounts for repeat text. Agencies welcome partnering with your qualified native speakers, particularly to learn your in-house word preferences. But you will save money and bolster your image when you use your native speakers (if any) to review rather than to implement language projects.

Don’t blindly accept changes…

8. Don’t blindly accept changes by your translation reviewers

When your company attempts to do business in other countries, its credibility is on the line with every translated legal, technical and marketing document you distribute. Prospective purchasers and end users know when your translations don’t “feel right.” And the first impression your documents make for you is even worse when they contain obvious errors in vocabulary, idioms, grammar, and style.

The thought quite naturally arises in the minds of prospects, “Does this company really know what it’s doing? If its technical and marketing materials are translated this poorly, how can we trust the quality of its products and customer support?” Then, with your credibility undermined, they stop paying any serious attention to your actual marketing message.

The best professional language agencies avoid this possibility by using a multi-step process to ensure accuracy. First the main translator – a native speaker with a graduate or advanced degree in Translating, many years’ experience, and expertise in your industry terminology – does the initial translation. This is then read and edited by a second translator who is equally well qualified, to catch any errors or omissions the first translator might have made. Finally, the edited translation is proofread for spelling, punctuation, grammar, numbering, formatting, etc. This process ensures that your translated materials will “go down easy” with your target audience. And that opens the door to their remaining interested in your actual message.

Some firms try to save money by going with a one-step process using only a single translator, with the editing and proofreading steps left to overseas agents or distributors. Other companies may ask their agents or distributors to do a final review of your deliveries. Superficially this may seem like a clever way to control costs or to verify our accuracy. But it can be a huge mistake, especially when companies blindly accept their reviewers’ changes.

This is no knock on your overseas associates. They may be outstanding at their primary jobs, but they are not professional linguists. You have no guarantee that they can write properly, spell properly, or know correct grammar and style in their native languages. And, if you don’t have their work checked by outside certified professionals, how would you ever know ?

Here are some real-life examples of what can happen:

  • A Vietnamese employee of one of our clients rewrote our translation in her village dialect, which was not the educated, standard Vietnamese that our client wanted to convey to establish its image in the business community there.
  • An overseas agent of another client changed the translation of “motor oil” to “salad oil.” This error would seem impossible to make in English, but in other languages many words do not translate directly, and nuances come into play.
  • An industrial saw company had us translate its brochure into Spanish. Then it asked its bilingual employee to review our translation before it went to print. When the company’s Mexican distributor received the printed brochures, he complained that the Spanish was absolutely terrible and full of gibberish. It turned out that the employee who made edits was a worker in the company’s warehouse and had no more than a fourth-grade education, even in Spanish.
  • A large medical manufacturer had us translate its “Directions for Use” into 12 European languages. The company then asked their European agents to review our work. Our client returned their edits to us for final evaluation. We discovered their Danish agent had added a claim that the home office knew nothing about, and for which the company would have been liable had the document been printed and distributed.

Your company’s image, reputation, and liability exposure are on the line every time you have any of your documents translated into another language. Therefore, it’s crucial to catch these kinds of errors and alterations before it’s too late. The cost of doing so is not really a current expense. It’s an insurance policy and an investment in your future profitability. So, whenever you need anything translated, your best option is to have us do your whole job, using professional linguists implementing our three-step “best practices” procedure.

Of course, we welcome your agents’ input regarding specific terminology and in-house practices. But If your reviewers make any changes to our work, please always send them back to us for a final critique. We can then advise you when their edits become rewrites that do not match your original intention, or that fail to support your company’s brand consistency and quality image.

For more information on this important issue, be sure to get our special report, How to Do a Translation Review, which provides guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable changes (such as rewriting the translation so that it no longer resembles the source original).

To obtain this report click here.

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