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Why correct translation is vital to international campaigns

Why correct translation is vital to international campaigns

By Simon George, Thames Translation.

It’s a rapidly shrinking world, and travel and communication are easier than they’ve ever been. In business and in our personal lives, we’re making more and more contact with people in other countries. And for business success, the ability to communicate across cultures has never been more important.

But we have all heard of those infamous international marketing howlers where companies have tripped up in their cross-cultural communications. The Coors beer strap line "Turn it loose" that became "Suffer from diarrhoea" in Spanish.

Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" translated as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" when written in Chinese. The Salem cigarette slogan "Feeling Free" roughly translated into Japanese as "feeling so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."

Amusing as they may be, there is a serious lesson from these communication blunders. Every organisation projects an image of itself through its internal and external communications. In an increasingly international business world, it is vital that key messages transcend language and cultural differences accurately, appropriately and above all, effectively.

No surprise, then, that whether addressing workforce, customers, suppliers or investors, the need for expert translation work has never been greater.

However, even after a communication project's goal, message and tone are determined there remains the crucial challenge of getting the best from whichever translation agency you select to undertake the work. In the following paragraphs, we suggest some ways that you can ensure success


A large part of getting good service from any supplier is producing a good brief and translation work is no exception. Projects too often start with an ill-defined problem.

This leads to a poorly communicated requirement and a translation that in consequence fails to achieve all it should. We offer the following suggestions to get the most from your next translation brief.

1. Goal.

What is the problem you wish to solve? Think carefully about exactly what it is your organisation wishes to achieve - it is a vital point of reference in all that follows, without which you may never know if you have been delivered exactly what you need!

2. Form.

A staff magazine is not a company report and a website is not a printed product catalogue. The form of the translation will fundamentally affect the language used in it.

3. Audience.

Who is the audience for the material? What is its demographic and linguistic make up? In what context will they be reading or hearing the text?

4. Language.

Into which target languages should the source material be translated? Even if you have only a single target country in mind, consider whether there are significant minority languages or dialects that must be accommodated. Do you require Portuguese for the Algarve or Copacabana? Do you need Indian or Pakistani Punjabi?

5. Quality.

Is the translation required for in-house, 'information-only' purposes or is it an outbound document intended for a wider audience? If the former, a slightly lower quality might be tolerated, avoiding the double-checking processes outlined below.

6. Style.

Describe as accurately as possible the context for the translated document. This is important for determining the register of vocabulary and style the translator will use.

7. Tone.

It is vital the translator adopts a linguistic and cultural tone appropriate to the purpose of the document and its target audience. Whether selling, providing technical information or addressing staff issues, the tone must be appropriate to the target culture.

8. Specialist vocabulary.

If the text is specific to a profession or industry, it will probably require specialist vocabulary.

9. Proof reading.

Ensure the process for checking and correcting the text is clearly understood. Thames Translations organises a second translator, as experienced and expert in the client's industry and target language as the first, to check the initial translation. Unless you need a translation for information only, this approach is strongly recommended.

10. Timescales.

Establish when you need the completed translation. Like most clients, you probably work to tight deadlines - maybe even 'impossible' ones. However, ensure you allow time for proof-reading, corrections and, if required, typesetting and printing. Seek out agencies with a good track record of delivering to time.

When briefing the agency, don't forget that no one knows your business as well as you, so err on the side of providing extra information rather than omitting it. It's always worth putting your brief in writing, as it helps avoid doubt and confusion.

It's also important to keep talking to the agency as the project continues. The success of translation projects pivots as much on successful communication between client and supplier as anything else.

So your next communication challenge needn't be mission impossible. Armed with these few hints, you can make your next translation project a tour de force!

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