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 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?


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.