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Creating Effective Translations

by Ami Wright

The Winter meeting of the International SIG featured two speakers, Marie-Anne de Warren, Documentation Manager at PSDI, and Michele LeBien, Translations Manager at Bose Corporation.

Marie-Anne opened the meeting by focusing on translation issues to be considered when creating English language documentation. She discussed the need to minimize the time and cost of translation, while maximizing quality.

Some of her recommendations:

  • Use active voice, because it is easier to understand. If the material is being translated into a language which frequently uses passive voice, such as German, the translator will make the accommodation for that language.
  • Avoid ambiguity. A translator needs to understand precisely what is happening in order to translate correctly. If it is ambiguous, the translator will need to have it clarified.
  • Avoid writing essentially the same thing in different places. If you need to repeat information, it is better to repeat it verbatim.
  • The goal to strive for is to have no defects in the source material. Any errors in the source material are compounded when it is translated into multiple languages.
  • Create a translation glossary. This helps ensure that each of the terms in English gets translated consistently into the appropriate term in the target language.
  • If you use acronyms, be sure to also write them out. Some languages do not use acronyms, or have their own.
  • Do not use telegraphic style. It is more difficult to understand. Also, many translation firms use some form of translation tool. In order to correctly parse the text, these tools will need all the small words that are left out when using telegraphic style.

Michele focused on two issues: finding a translations firm, and setting up an in-country review process for the completed translations. She described six steps to finding a translations firm:

  1. Know your company's position on translation. This includes questions such as:
    • Who controls your company's translations budget?
    • What is your company's past history with translations?
  2. Assess your company's translation needs. This includes questions such as:
    • What types of translations does your company need?
    • What languages are required for which countries?
  3. Define the translation firm your company will need. This includes questions such as:
    • What are the language requirements?
    • What are the hardware and software requirements?
  4. Research firms or translators. Possible sources of leads are:
    • The Web
    • Associations such as STC or the American Translators Association
    • Referrals
    • Glen's Guide to Translators
  5. Qualify potential translations firms. This includes:
    • Interviewing them.
    • Sending a questionnaire about their services.
    • Giving them a test translation job.
  6. Select the firm or firms.

Michele then described how to set up an in-country review process, and steps to take to avoid problems.

The meeting ended with questions from the audience. These questions included: how to handle graphics and call outs, the importance of having translations done in the target country, and how to educate others in the company about translation issues.

Thank you to Augment Systems for hosting the meeting.


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This article originally appeared in the May/June 1997 issue of the Boston Broadside


© 1998 by STC Boston, Peabody, Massachusetts, USA