Translation Styles: Consultation as a Prerequisite

Translation Styles Contents

Welcome to the fifth article in our eight-part series on how to get the most out of your translation. This series of articles is intended for readers who need to get their message across clearly, in a foreign language. Specifically, it deals with issues related to Japanese to English and English to Japanese translation.
This table of contents will be updated with links as I publish each new article.

  1. How Important is Translation Quality, Anyway?
  2. Translation Sin 1: Automated Translation
  3. Translation Sin 2: Non-native Translation
  4. Translation Sin 3: Direct Translation
  5. Translation Necessity 1: Consultation
  6. Translation Necessity 2: Communication
  7. Translation Necessity 3: Trust
  8. The Final Product

Recap: What Not To Do

Over the last three articles we’ve discussed common pitfalls in translation. Despite the evident poor quality that results from these approaches, they remain disturbingly common, especially here in Japan. In fact, well over 75% of the translations I see, including those performed by large translation companies and agencies, commit one or more of the fouls in the previous articles. Apparently their customers are either unaware of or apathetic towards the embarrassingly bad translations. If I sounded indignant in the last few articles, it was not (only) because I think those customers should switch to TranSenz, because I’m prepared to admit that there are acceptable alternatives, even if I haven’t seen one. No, at a more basic level, I oppose translation fouls because I love language and hate seeing it butchered.

How to Get Your Translation Done Right!

On to happier topics! The next three articles will cover important aspects in your translation process that may not be readily apparent: Consultation, Communication, and Trust. Ordering a translation for your business is not like ordering printer paper. It’s not even as simple as ordering brochures to be printed. We believe that you need to establish a relationship with your translator, both to make sure you understand each others’ needs and to take the first step towards building trust.

Pre-Translation Consultation

I highly recommend consulting with a professional translator before getting that foreign language tattoo, or before ordering expensive advertisements with a foreign language slogan (English slogans are almost as popular in Japan as bad English slogans). Before you plaster the train station with banners for your fitness center declaring “This is Answer”, like the gym in the next city over, you’ll want a native speaker to look over that. While TranSenz does offer language consulting for those sort of tasks, that’s not what I mean by pre-translation consultation.

As I have stressed in the previous articles, a translator needs to be able to render your meaning in the foreign language to make the proper impact on your target audience. In order to set the translator up for success, save yourself a lot of trouble later, and give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling, you’ll want to sit down face-to-face if possible, or at least have a series of email and telephone exchanges. If your project coordinator and translation team leader are different people, you’ll want to talk to both of them. The purpose of this consultation is to make sure everyone knows the project goals, constraints, and timeline.

What You Bring to the Meeting

Besides showing up with your intent for the final project, you may want to prepare some additional materials. For instance, if you want your translation to match the tone or style of previous translated works, bring a copy along. If your organization has a list of predetermined terms in the foreign language that cannot be changed, that is a critical resource for your translator (Note: if you have bilingual business cards or bilingual signage, then you have predetermined terms: your job titles and office names. Hopefully you consulted a translator before designing them in the first place!) Of course, if you’ve been down the wrong translation path in the past and ended up with strange titles and awkward terms, you’ll want to find a competent translator and start from scratch.

What to Expect from the Translator

A barrage of questions! Your translator and project manager (if they are two different people) should have had time to review the work you want translated, or the source material on which you want your foreign language copy to be based. A good translator will look at your material like an editor- trying to spot all of the confusing, inconsistent, or weak material in the original- because he or she needs to know exactly what he or she is working with. I have heard of businesses that will not go to press with source language material until their translator has had a chance to review it, in order to take advantage of the free editorial comments. At the very least, your translator should ask questions about the target audience and impact you wish to have, in order to pitch the translated material correctly.

Your project manager should have a preliminary plan and schedule for getting your project done, as well as the nuts and bolts details of delivery and payment, as well. Ideally, if all three parties bring their deliverables to the consultation, then everyone is going to walk away with a clear image of exactly where your translation is going. Better yet, you’ll be able to attach a name and face to the people you’re working with and get to understand their personalities. Provided the meeting goes well, this will leave you with much more confidence in the direction of your translation project than if you had simply fired it off to a faceless agency and its remote freelancers.

What’s Next?

Your initial consultation is only the first step in your communication with the translator and project manager. No matter how thorough the meeting, there are likely to be issues that pop up during your work. So, in the next article, we’ll talk about maintaining a communication channel with your translator.

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