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Writing for Translation: 18 Tips For Effective Communication

In today's world, where different languages and cultures are no longer something just found across the globe but rather in our backyard, it is becoming increasingly important for a business to take translation and multiple language considerations into account in their work.


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Key Takeaways

  • Writing for translation requires a different approach than writing for a single-language audience.

  • Using simple language with standard vocabulary is crucial to avoid confusion and mistranslations.

  • Short sentences with clear formatting make it easier for translators to work with your content.

  • Avoid idiomatic expressions and cultural references, as they may not translate well.

  • Be as precise as possible in your writing to limit ambiguity and misinterpretation.

  • Proofreading your work is important to limit mistakes that could lengthen translation time.

  • Using the active voice and avoiding -ing words and jargon makes translation easier.

  • International dates and measurements should be used to eliminate any potential confusion.

  • A style guide, reference material and a glossary of terms help maintain consistency in translation.

  • Humour and culturally insensitive content should be avoided.

  • Providing context for technical terms and abbreviations, using visuals to convey meaning, and working closely with the translator are some best practices for writing for translation. As more and more people are trying to get their message across to global markets and international audiences, translation, whether through a machine, tool, or human, is now essential for most businesses.

 

Writing for translation is an art form in and of itself, with many tips and tricks that can help optimise your experience and the results you get. As a dual language speaker with a slightly less-than-ideal relationship with one language over another, I sometimes find myself in situations where I need to turn to a translation tool to help guide me with my own communication in multiple languages.


My experience with Google Translate and machine translation has informed my relationship with professional translators and translation companies with many lessons that can be carried over from one experience to another.


Below, we'll cover the industry tips, tricks and guiding principles for effective communication through your translation process.


Best practices for writing for translation

You've just been given a new translation project that you need to complete, and you're wondering what the best way to go about it is to ensure you get an accurate translation for your audience. While there are multiple options, such as using a translation agency or a freelance translator, the guiding principles to communicate effectively and get the best possible results are the same across the board.


Keep reading for the best practices when it comes to writing content that needs to be translated and how to get a quality source text guaranteed to give you the results you're looking for.


Use simple language

When writing content you want to be translated; it's essential to keep the source language simple and straightforward.


In the English language, many words can have different meanings. It's imperative to use clear words and standard vocabulary that cannot be misconstrued or misinterpreted to avoid any confusion. Be sure to also use proper punctuation to ensure an accurate translation of content.


Keep your sentences short

Short sentences are easier to understand and translate. Using shorter sentences with uncomplicated structures makes the content easier for a language service provider to work with.


Use clear formatting

Formatting your content clearly with headings, bullet points, and numbered lists make your text easy to read and navigate, which can help the translator find the key messages quicker.


Avoid idiomatic expressions and cultural references

As much as you might want to use an expression for impact, it might not translate well, therefore, losing any effect it might have had otherwise. Phrasal verbs and noun strings can also cause confusion for a non-native English speaker. Instead, use simple words, short sentences, and uncomplicated structures to make it easier for translators to understand the key message that needs to be translated.


Limit ambiguity

Be as precise as possible in your writing. Limit words that can be interpreted in multiple ways and use specific and precise language to avoid any confusion.


Proofread your work

One misspelled word can sometimes completely change the meaning of the text. Be sure to proofread your text for grammar and spelling mistakes to avoid misinterpretation and potential back-and-forth communication with your translation company.


Use the active voice instead of the passive voice

In the passive voice, a subject receives an action, vs in the active voice, where the subject is performing an action, i.e. "John threw the ball in the air" vs. "The ball was thrown into the air by John." The passive voice is less direct and wordier, while the active voice is more direct and uses fewer words. Using an active voice allows for easier translation.


Another tip is to avoid -ing words where possible, as they can be a big trouble spot in translation and may cause confusion.


In the English language, there are many different types of words that end in '-ing' from nouns, adjectives, progressive verbs, etc. But a translator who is a non-native English speaker may not be able to recognise the distinctions and may try to translate them all in the same way.


Use international dates and measurements

Many countries document dates in various formats. In the United States, they have the month come first in the MM/DD/YYYY format, while in Australia, the day usually appears first in this way DD/MM/YYYY.


Spelling the month out instead of using a number could help eliminate any confusion. Provide context as well to ensure the translator is clear on the measurements and format.


Use consistent terminology and avoid jargon

In every industry, there are key terms that are regularly used. In translation, it's best to always use the same key terms your audience is familiar with. Create a glossary of terms and reference materials, especially for technical terms, that can help guide your translation agency and ensure consistency.


Avoid humour

Humour can be difficult to translate based on cultural differences. What is funny in one language and culture might not be relevant in another. Limit the inclusion of humour in your source text to reduce the potential for misunderstanding in other languages.


Be culturally sensitive

People from different cultures and backgrounds can sometimes have a different world view. Be sensitive to cultural differences and avoid content that may offend your target audience.


Create a style guide for your content

A style guide can help maintain consistency across your content. When creating a style guide, consider standard rules for your writing style, tone of voice, branded words and phrases and formatting guidelines.


Provide context for technical terms and abbreviations

Providing context for technical terms and abbreviations will help the translator better understand the meaning behind your content, especially if it's a more complex idea.


Use visuals to help convey meaning

Using visuals, such as graphs or charts, can help convey the meaning of your content more clearly to a translator. Be sure to include any images that can convey the message without using too many words.


Make sure that the images supporting the text can be easily understood in different cultures as well.


Avoid using text in images

On the topic of images, while they can be helpful, text embedded into the image can prove difficulties in the translation process and may require additional time and work from the translator. Speed the process along by providing the text directly in your document instead of in the image.


Provide reference material to help translators understand the content

Reference material can help translators better understand your content and key message. Providing them with these references or background material can ensure a more accurate translation and a quicker turnaround time.


Work closely with your translator to ensure accuracy and quality

Working closely with your translation company will ensure your content is translated accurately and effectively. Including a translation brief and answering any questions your translator might have will help you get the best out of your translation.


Consider localising your content for different regions and cultures

If you are translating your material into multiple languages, consider localising the content to meet the specific needs of your target audience. Localisation considers the cultural difference and reframes the key messages to align with the mindset of your audience.


Final Thoughts

As the world gets smaller and smaller, translation is becoming more prominent to help businesses communicate with a larger and more diverse audience. As businesses turn to translation agencies to help them reach a wider audience, they also need to do their part to help translation agencies give them the best results.


A good source text that is easy to read and understand is essential. The quality of the source text will determine the quality and accuracy of the translation you receive. Following the principles outlined above and keeping your content simple, clear, and straightforward will help you and your translator create the best content for your global audience.


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