Is English It? Nope.

 Why don’t they just speak English?”

This is a question that could be only best described in a 20 part documentary series with never-ending addenda.  However, given time restraints and a desire to live a full and balanced life, the simple answer is: “They just don’t.”  In our rapidly and continuously globalizing world, English is still one of the most important  lingua francas for most  international communication (others include French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian). However, regardless of this, not every person in the world has access to English.  Companies are realizing that if a product or a service is not offered in a local language that the potential for revenue growth is greatly diminished.

When it comes to business, whether to simply turn a profit, increase a company’s worldwide footprint, or to get into the local mix, foreign language plays an important role in the success of international business.  Without localized and translated material targeted at a particular language group and/or culture, the ability of an international corporation to provide its products on a worldwide scale is greatly diminished. However, providing the product for consumption is only a part of the equation, there are several instances where translation is a must, including: instructions for use, explanation of contents, and product labeling.  Additionally, all countries have laws governing the sale of products which require submission to regulatory bodies and additionally require that all information about the product and its manufacture be provided in the local language.  The back-end work of being able to sell in the locale is to be to simply achieve the right to sell the product legally whereas the front-end work is convincing consumers that the product is something they should buy.

Translators are the professionals who have the language expertise to assist a company in understanding how their product will fit into another locale.  Any company knows its own product well and can provide every reason as to why it is needed in everyday life.  However, it is in the way this is expressed that will have the largest impact on the success of the product in a new international locale. The way society at large communicates with women in the United States will be significantly different from the way society at large communicates with women in India. The cultural understanding of the locale is much more important than the fact the company wants to sell the product. When communication with the potential consumer is evocative, then he or she is more willing and ready to buy.  Without attention to language, the company could be potentially floating a sizable quantity of unsold and unused product.

Searching for the right type of translator and localizer is important and it is not one-size-fits-all. A translator with marketing expertise and a translator with legal expertise are very different types of translators. In fact, it would be similar to asking an automobile mechanic to fix a jet engine. While both perform the same kind of work, that is, they are both mechanics, they have very different jobs and levels of expertise for certain types of mechanic work.  This is the same for a translator, as varied as the world is, so varied is the language professional. The idea of one-size-fits-all must be abandoned as such an expectation will result in disappointment.

What the client should keep in mind is the following when thinking about translation and translators:

  • Independent contractors have several clients, while you are important, the translator is not a full-time employee of yours, expectations must be maintained at the appropriate level.
  • Translation is not simply reading in one language and typing into another. It requires thought and attention; this is not a rote task, it is very mentally involved and challenging.
  • Any translator should be translating into his or her native language (while there are exceptions, this is the rule of thumb).
  • Language is not math, most often the way something is said can be said in another way. Keep this in mind when reviewing what has been translated.
  • Translation is not performed for free and freebies should not be expected.
  • The general metric for translation is 2000 words per day (8 hours).  This entails the first draft translation and a translator self-review.
  • Editing metrics (a translator checks a translation to be sure all meaning is conveyed) are usually around 1000 words per hour.
  • Proofreading metrics (a native of the target language reviews a translation and ensures the style is appropriate and the content is at the applicable register) are usually around 3000 words per hours.
  • Depending on the subject and the expertise of the translator metrics can change.

There are also several other factors that can influence translation, including: computer operating systems, whether a computer program is properly coded and internationalized for non-English display, and many others. However, most companies do not think of translation upfront.  This makes the most sense and  is normal.  Moving into international markets usually comes after success in a domestic market.  Even though getting a system or a product translation ready will be a bit more painstaking after the fact; language professionals will provide invaluable support to an organization’s technical players and programmers, marketing writers, and legal teams.

Having an open mind and a clear idea of what the goal and the needs of the organization seeking translation is imperative. From the clear idea the two players will be significantly more able to define, plan, and execute the translation project.

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