Translations That Look Easy: Beware
To many people, it seems pretty logical that a short piece of text would be really easy to translate. It can create a very false sense of security with small sections of text for translations, such as slideshow presentations, text in apps and game dialogue. The idea goes that fewer words must mean an easier job, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Quite often these translations are some of the hardest, most easily explained by comparing them to icebergs: only 10% of the problem to solve is visible and the other 90% is hidden below the surface, and is either up to you to work out, or ask for. The lack of context that comes as a result of a lack of words makes it very difficult to know how to tackle what you are faced with. Here are just some of the types of translations that may look easy on the surface, but are problematic once you start.
Translation for video games may look easy because they are mostly short sentences or single words. However, while you may understand the literal meaning of all of these, it might not be so easy to understand them in the context of that specific game, and it is only really possible to do so if you are given a full game description, or have played it yourself. For example, the command “Shoot!” would have entirely different meanings if used in a basketball or football video game compared to a war-themed game. For this exact reason, it is vital that you don’t rely on machines to translate these seemingly easy singular words: machines can’t understand context. The key thing here is that the word itself is very easy to translate (assuming a parallel exists) but it’s absolutely impossible to be sure you’re getting it right unless you can see exactly how and where the word is being used.
PowerPoint presentations are difficult translate because a lot of the information they contain is abbreviated, as it is usually the speaker that will explain the words on the screen. Presentations also tend to feature a lot of stylistic features, such as rhyming, alliteration and acronyms as a technique to capture audience attention and help them remember the information. It is important that, when the specific words are translated, the author’s original style and voice is mirrored. If your PowerPoint presentation contains any of these stylistic features or acronyms, make sure you explain them to the linguist before they begin. This is another great example of where the iceberg analogy applies well: the translator sees the 10% that the presenter has written on the screen, but needs to have a good understanding of the intent of the slide, the purpose of the whole presentation and the information that’s going to be delivered alongside it.
Given that apps are used on mobile devices, they don’t usually contain much text – and this is perfect from a usability and design perspective, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the text that is there is easy to translate. It also means that perfect translations are more important. App designers work hard to pick just the right words, in the right places- so the translation needs just as much care and caution. People download apps to serve them a particular purpose, and often choose an app instead of a website because it is faster. For this to be the case, translation needs to be precise to allow users to navigate the app effectively. The other issue with app translation is that it needs to be concise, as text space is often limited. Your translation provider needs to have absolute clarity on word and character limits before setting out on these translations.
E-commerce / International Marketplaces
The names of products or the navigation words on your website may seem pretty straightforward -and they are in many ways, but don’t let that push you into rushing through them. There are terms that we’re all used to nowadays, like “home” and “back”, but think about how many of these terms have multiple meanings, depending on where they are used. Import, export, draft, set up, process, develop, set. The word “set” has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary spanning more than a whole page, it has so many different possible meanings which, once again, means these types of translations cannot be done using a machine as the context is too important. Again it’s not that the words are difficult, but the more sparing we are with the English words we use, the more vital it becomes that the whole context and intent is made crystal clear in order to translate it.
Of course, every translation will come with its difficulties, and these are just a handful of the types of translation that require more time and consideration than first meets the eye.
So, the key things to take away from this are:
1 – it is almost impossible to translate one word on its own -your translation provider should always be asking for context
2 – the more thought and precision you’ve put into your words, the more care you need to expect a translator to take
3 – automatic translation, or machine translation, is actually much less effective on single terms, games and apps than it is on full sentences and documents, so be really cautious when using it.
4 -Questions are a good thing! Translators can’t work without a full understanding and the bigger picture, so expect questions. If your provider doesn’t go through a full onboarding exploration, or doesn’t ask a good number of questions during their process, you should be highly wary!