Translation Styles: The Importance of Quality

Originally, this was going to be a post about three major sins of English to Japanese/ Japanese to English translation: Automated translation, non-native translation, and direct translation. However, due to the amount of material, and my assumption that you’re not here to read a dissertation today, I’m going to break it up a bit. And, since I’m going to make this into a series, I’ll add a few more sections, to talk about the good as well as the bad. 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. But talking about bad translations is more fun (and there are many more examples), so I’m going to start with that.

Translation Styles Series Table of Contents

This 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

Wow, that’s more ambitious than I intended to be. Don’t run away yet! These will be separate articles and, while there will be an optional test at the end, it’s one question and pass/fail. So, without further ado,

How Important is Translation Quality, Anyway?

Apparently, there are a few schools of thought here. Some people seem to think that, as long as you’re getting your general message across, then the overall quality isn’t important. I’ll talk more about this school of thought in the Automated Translation article, as the two are intimately related, but 95% of the time, this mentality is not only wrong, but it’s going to do at least as much damage as good. At TranSenz, we believe that your translation should have the same strength and impact in the target language as it does in your source material.

I haven’t watched Mad Men yet- I haven’t been able to find it at the local DVD rental shop- but I am at least aware that advertising is a large industry. People and companies pay significant sums of money to advertising agencies to get their message out to potential consumers in as powerful a manner as possible. Why? Because for your target populace, that ad is the first thing they will ever see about your company, and you want to make a strong first impression. Even when companies don’t use an advertising agency, they massage their message internally, through multiple drafts, until they get the message right. I don’t think anyone would argue that the path to successful advertising is haphazard publishing.

But when you run your carefully crafted message through a sub-par translation, you’re throwing all of its value away!

Translation = Advertising

I’m talking about importance here, not cost. Translation services for your company are a lot cheaper than advertising, but equally as important. Especially if you’re going between Japanese and English. Grammar patterns have no common ground between the two languages and, tense and manner of speech are also completely different. Japanese is generally a passive and wordy language, especially in formal documents. English, on the other hand, tends to use active voice and short statements to make an impact. What happens if you take a Japanese flyer and translate it into English? You get statements like “The international students who will cooperate in Exciting Foreign Cultural Exchange program are looked for!” (This is an actual example of a flyer that crossed my desk, recently.) It’s obvious enough to English speakers that this phrase not only lacks punch but may put the reader to sleep before they read another word, despite the exclamation point).

All the care and crafting that goes into creating a flyer, pamphlet, website, or any other public document is lost in the minute that material goes through a mediocre or direct translation. If you are really trying to reach out to a target audience in a foreign language, the translated version has to have just as much impact for your foreign readers. To get the translation done right, you want to render your meaning and intent in the foreign language, not just your words. I will talk more about how to do this in the second half of this series. But in many ways, creating a truly successful “translation” means following the same process as you did to create your source material in the first place.

Think from your Target Customers Perspective

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but your customers are going to fall in to one of two categories: 1) people who are viewing translated material for the first time; and 2) people who are not viewing translated material for the first time. It’s important to recognize this simple fact, when you’re determining how to go about your translation, because it ought to impact how you approach your final product.

Customers viewing translated material for the first time are likely to be less forgiving of grammar and structure errors that emerge from a mediocre translation process. If they’re used to reading native-quality material, and you present them with moderate level second-language-speaker quality, they’re going to give up and go to another site with better presentation. You remember how patient and appreciative foreigners were when you struggled through a few words in their language? Well, that tolerance only works in person- it will not extend to your business.

Customers who have seen translated material before can look at your translation and immediately tell how much effort you’ve put into it- and therefore how much you care. While they may be more familiar with the peculiarities of translated language, they also have enough experience to know that it isn’t difficult to get your translation done right. If you’ve settled for a mediocre translation or, worse, automated translation, these customers will immediately get the message that you don’t care about them or their business.

Getting your Translation Done Right

. . . And that’s before we even get to the appeal of your message! The good news is that it is really quite simple to avoid these pitfalls and to get a quality translation that is going to get your message across. Since I’m blogging on a translation company website, I don’t really have to come out and say it directly, do I? Fine- leave it to TranSenz to create a product that will get your message across, with style.

Not convinced yet?

Read on to the rest of this series of articles. The next chapter,Translation Sin 1: Automated Translation, is available now!

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