A client creates marketing copy in English. They send it to a translator, who creates an error-free, seemingly perfect translation. It gets sent to the marketing team in the target country. The team rewrites the document – unfortunately not for the better. The result no longer reflects the meaning of the source document and includes grammar and spelling errors.
What went wrong?
Any client, including individuals and small groups or businesses, may change a translation from time to time without talking to the translator or, worse still, without getting the altered document proofread. When it comes to working with large international businesses, any translation typically has to undergo what’s known as in-country review (IRC). This means that an in-house reviewer or team of reviewers who speak the target language goes over the translation.
In theory, in-country review is a good idea. After all, native speakers with inside knowledge of a company’s culture and jargon should be perfect at making sure a translation is adapted to the company’s needs. But in practice, these reviews often result in changes that cause what was a functional, even great, translation to become a stiff, stilted text that’s pockmarked with errors, or even downright incomprehensible.
Here are some things can that make in-country review go wrong:
Looking within. As a money-saving measure, or simply because they don’t think it’s necessary, many companies won’t hire professional proofreaders or third-party reviewers. Instead, they’ll look for an employee who’s a native speaker of the target language.
With no formal training in translation, proofreading, or writing, this person probably isn’t an absolute pro at grammar, let alone concepts like localization. They may also do things like decide that while a phrase is perfectly understandable, they prefer to say it another way – without considering that their preferred way veers wildly from the tone of the rest of the document. They may speak the target language, but a dialect or completely different version of it (for example, a Spanish-speaking accountant from Uruguay translating a document destined to clients in Spain) and replace words and turns of phrase that don’t match with their own way of speaking the language, even if they are correct for the target market.
So much to do, so little time. But maybe the reviewer is actually quite good. Maybe they’ve had some experience with editing or have a way with words. There’s still another common issue: time. Since they’re not employed full-time as a reviewer, and have other work to do at the company, they may rush through a document, making vague changes just to get it done.
No time to for second glances. In some cases, there might be so many translated documents and language reviewers and such a tight deadline that they all turn in something as best and quickly as they can, and no one else takes the time to review their work before publishing it.
Last-minute changes. Sometimes, in addition to working with a tight deadline, the reviewer is asked to make last-minute changes the company decided on. Maybe they want to use different terminology, or even add in entire paragraphs or sections on a subject.
Spatial relations. A similar issue is when a translator wasn’t informed about issues like (web) page layout or template spacing issues, and so certain phrases or words of their translation needs to be cut or shortened. Since the reviewer doing this usually isn’t an expert in language, they may think that what they’ve cut or modified isn’t important, but that might not actually be the case. As you’ve probably guessed by now, they don’t have the time (and maybe don’t want to spend the additional money) to reach out to the translator.
If in-country review is common practice, especially in large businesses, why can’t most of us get it right? It’s definitely not due to a lack of strategies and suggestions for improvement.
Do an online search for “in-country translation review problems” and you’ll see that lots of translation companies, translators, businesses, and more, have excellent ideas for how to avoid these problems. For example, in one of our favorite pieces on the subject, translator Melissa Ramer provides helpful checklists for companies and translators alike, including how to choose a good in-country reviewer, and instructions that the translator can pass on to them.
Ramer and other translators have other suggestions, too, like:
– establish a style guide. This will be helpful for the translator and will eliminate the need to edit a translation because it doesn’t use the correct company lingo.
– talk to the translator before the project starts. Clients shouldn’t be afraid to include notes with the document(s) to be translated (FYI: Most translators find these really helpful!). Ramer and others even suggest sitting down to formally discuss things like ground rules and expectations.
– allow the reviewer(s) and translator(s) to be in contact with each other and reachable throughout the project. Ideally, Ramer writes, they should even know of each other before getting started, via a contact at the company, for example.
– hold meetings/updates with the translator throughout the process. This can also prevent generating more work and changes at the end. For example, if the translator knows page layout has changed, they can adapt their work accordingly.
– have a third-party reviewer. This means an objective person, neither the translator nor the reviewer, who can read a translated (and possibly edited) document to make sure it makes sense and is error-free.
So, why aren’t these suggestions being followed for every in-country review out there? Ultimately, it may come down to the sense of importance that’s given to a translation. As global content strategist Val Swisher writes:
reviewing content in any language is just as important as making sure your product works. Content needs to be treated like a product – it has a lifecycle that needs to be planned and followed. Otherwise, you end up with inaccurate information in all languages.
It’s important for businesses to keep in mind that translations and translators play a vital role in their company’s image and, to a certain extent, success. Badly translated content translates to “unprofessional”, “unreliable”, or simply “incomprehensible”. Keeping the lines of communication open before and during the in-country review process may take more time than a DIY job, but the results will be worth every second spent.