Imagine you are not feeling well and you decide to go to the doctor. Would you ask him/her to solve your problem without explaining your symptoms or without providing any information about your clinical history, allergies, etc…?

Hopefully – for your health and for your doctor’s mental sanity – your answer was no. A competent doctor would most likely be able to make a diagnosis anyway after a thorough examination and by running some tests, but your cooperation would certainly give quicker and more effective results.
Now, I will share a secret with you. This may come as a surprise to you at first, but the same principle applies when you order a translation. In the same way as your doctor will be able to find an adequate treatment for your problem if provided with all the information s/he needs about your health, for a quality translation you obtain much better results if you help your translator by providing some important information such as context, purpose, target audience, register, style
Confused? Let me explain with a practical example.

Recently, I had the chance to work on two projects, for two different agencies, that both required the translation of long lists of product descriptions to be published on the websites of the respective end clients. For our purposes, today we will call them brand Yay and brand Nay.

Brand Nay – or to be precise, the agency hired by Brand Nay, provided me with the following:
– the Excel file to be translated. This file presented the product descriptions in no logical order (a pair of socks, a pokeball, a box of chocolates, a stuffed animal without a leg, a t-shirt, an alarm clock, another pair of socks and so forth) with neither pictures nor product titles/names. Reference material provided (eg. a website or a brochure): none.

What’s the problem? you may ask. Let’s look at some of the issues that may arise while working on the translation.

1.Who’s my target audience?
The source text, in English, targeted buyers in the UK, however no clarification was given on whether the Italian translation was supposed to be tailored for Italian people living in the UK or if everything had to be localized for the Italian market. This is relevant in order to decide the degree of localization the text needs.
a) Cultural references: If there’s a reference to an English TV show, I may want to change it or add a note if my Italian audience is in Italy, whereas I would probably leave it as it is if my audience lives in the UK and is familiar with English pop culture.
b) Currency:  Do I keep the GBP as a unit or am I supposed to convert the prices into Euros?
c) Measurements: Inches, feet, pounds, centimeters… Convert them or not?

2. What message do I want to convey? How do I want my readers to react to my text? Do I want to be formal and strictly informative or to sound friendly and catchy?
The range of products was really broad, from fancy and very expensive watches and clothes to toys and souvenirs, but no indication was given about the tone and register to be used. Do we want to keep it formal because of the high-end clients or keep it casual to make it more appealing to parents looking for presents for their kids? Do we want to keep consistency throughout all the descriptions or do we prefer to adapt the tone to the product? Of course, the ultimate goal is to increase sales and convince people to buy, but slight stylistic choices can make a difference, since language here has the function of a powerful marketing tool.

Now, Google is mighty and can solve many problems and doubts when the absence of reference files fails to do so, however, we’ll probably all agree on the fact that, if provided with the right context and information, the final product might have been better tailored to the customer’s needs.

On the other hand, we have Brand Yay and the agency hired by Brand Yay. For this translation project I received:
– a translation brief describing in detail who the target audience was (gender, age range, profession), what message the text had to convey, what tone and style to use (friendly, serious, formal), what to do about names, prices, measurements (keep them, convert them);
– an Excel file clearly indicating product reference number, title, description, materials, further details if applicable; AND everything was ordered by category;
– a 200 pages catalog of all the products with images and reference numbers.

In this case, when I start working I already have a clear picture in mind of my client’s wishes and expectations, which allows me to be more confident and give to my text a certain direction right from the start. Furthermore, thanks to the images provided in the reference materials, I can find the perfect terminology for color nuances, materials, specific parts of an object I may not be familiar with and so forth, making sure that there are no inconsistencies between text and image. 

The bottom line is: if you give all the necessary elements to your translator, s/he has no excuse not to deliver a top quality translation. You, as a client, play an important role in obtaining the quality you are asking for. The relationship between client and translator has to be a collaborative effort to achieve the best possible result. So, when ordering a translation, help us to help you.

cooperation client translator