4 tips on writing English for translation
Every day I come across English content that needs localisation. Reading through it, I find myself wanting to amend it so that it fits the purposes it was written for.
Content needs localisation because most businesses sell products and services around the world. Reaching all your clients is tricky as different markets speak different languages. That’s precisely when the need for translation is born.
Often, translation causes panic to translation buyers, but why? What is so terrifying about translation or about reaching a market that speaks a different language? Translation is not a scary business unless you hire the wrong person for the job. What is scary is writing content that once translated, makes no sense.
So here are 4 tips on how to write content that translates well:
1. Idioms — Don’t worry about them, just use them but don't overdo it
Most people advise you to avoid idiomatic expressions. I don’t agree. Professional and creative translators are able to transfer idioms from one language to another. Languages are rich and full of figurative expressions. For instance, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ in English means it’s raining heavily. In Greek, the equivalent idiom is ‘ρίχνει καρεκλοπόδαρα’ (rihni kareklopodara), which means ‘it’s throwing chair legs’, but figuratively it means ‘it is absolutely pouring’. So leave idioms to the professionals. Besides, translators are cultural bridges.
2. Space — Please leave some
Do not create content-heavy English web pages and then expect them to look as pretty in German. European languages could expand from 5 to 35%! Write your English content having localisation in mind, because reducing the German fonts may be a solution, but it isn't the best one for the customer.
3. Margaret, Maggie, Mar, Mags — Are we still talking about the same person?
How about using one and the same word when referring to this one and the same thing? Why? Because, first of all, this is the logical thing to do and then, it won’t confuse your translators and they won’t start asking questions. Instead, they’ll focus on creating beautiful content in different languages. Believe me, you will not be a boring writer. You will be clear and consistent.
4. Back to basics — Curate your content
What is your content supposed to do? Who is it addressed to? Who will read it? Let’s take as example this imaginary mobile phone provider. They've just launched a new phone in the UK. We will call that new phone ‘v2’. v2 replaces an older phone. We will call the older phone ‘v1’. v1 is available only in the UK. The company now decided to launch v2 in the French market.
The opening line of the newsletter they wrote in English and sent for translation into French reads: ‘This new upgraded phone replaces the previous and it provides a much faster experience that comes in a new sleek look’. Even if you hire the best French translator, this message will fail. When French customers read it, they’ll think: ‘What previous phone? I've never had a phone from this company. It’s the first time I'm seeing this product.’
If you don’t want to modify your English copy for each and every market you are targeting, why not just talk about your product itself, without making any market-specific remarks?
If writing English for translation purposes causes you a headache, speak to a translation consultant. They will be able to help!
Vasiliki is a translation consultant and translator from English and French into Greek and from Greek into English. She runs Greek to Me Translations from Oxford, UK. She is a Member of the CIoL and the ITI and she is registered the Greek Embassy. She specialises in legal, marketing, psychometrics and food content. Her mission is to help you reach your target market through successful communication, making your products and services available easily and quickly. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.