Why You Need a Translation Company

I have been working in the translation industry for 30 years. During that time, I have seen Americans transition from completely ignorant about foreign languages (unless they took language courses in high school or college) to at least partially literate about the subject. When I first started, there was not a week that went by without someone requesting the translation of a catch phrase or a slogan for a product – some of which were puns or had double meanings in English. I would try to explain to them that it would just not make sense in the target language and more than once I had someone reply “Well, can’t you just translate the words?” as if their target audience would magically understand a string of nonsense words just because it made sense in English.

My family and I took a short drive through part of Canada for a day once since we live close to the border. We stopped for carbonated beverages, and when we got home, I showed the empty bottle to my daughter, who had studied French. “Live the experience” in English had turned out to read “Get experienced” in French….not exactly what the company had in mind. Today, when I explain to a client that a certain phrase or concept will not directly translate, they understand and either come up with alternative text or tell me to let the translator have some latitude with the translation.

The act of translation is not an innate ability, although some people have a talent for it. Like any other activity, it needs a bit of practice, experience, training, etc. Just because a person is bi-lingual or tri-lingual does not automatically make them a good translator. I have had clients send me critiques after the fact of a translation we completed for them. These critiques are usually done by the client’s in-house personnel who speak the language in question. After reviewing the client’s concerns, nine times out of ten the complaints are the result of simple terminology preferences and the original translation was fine. Once in a while, the criticism stems from the fact that the reviewer may have grown up speaking that language, but he/she has never actually written formally in their native language and has poor grammar skills.

Back before everyone could desktop publish simple documents and everything had to be typeset on photographic paper with specialty equipment, I got a request from a printer to typeset a handbook for a local juvenile detention center. The booklet was in Spanish translated from English, and the printer indicated that one of the employees of the detention center had translated it. I’m not a native speaker of Spanish, but I do have a college degree in the language and I have been proofreading translations for 30 years. I identified at least 20 errors in spelling and grammar on the first page alone. I told the printer that his client could either pay us to retranslate the job, or I would have to turn it down. He was a bit frustrated with me, but I was not going to put our company name on a product – even though we didn’t translate it – that was written by someone obviously partially illiterate.

Many bi-lingual people advertise their services as translators because they figure it’s a good and easy way to make a living without any idea about the basics of translation. Their translation are usually literal, awkward and obviously not written originally in the target language. I once threw out a bargain book I bought at a bookstore because as I was reading it I thought “this thing has been translated”. It was a professional publication, but the text was terrible. There are people who have a working knowledge of several languages and they believe they can actually produce polished, professional translations in all of those languages in practically any subject matter. These are the people you need to avoid at all cost and these are the people a translation company weeds out.

For the sake of your company’s image, you should never let your neighbor, your nephew, your co-worker or your friend translate your corporate literature for you and assume you will get a good, usable product that reflects well on your organization. You wouldn’t go to a dentist for a broken leg even though he has some medical training, so please leave your translation needs in the hands of the professionals, and give us a call.

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