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The Do’s and Don’ts of writing for translation

Mastering cross-cultural communication requires study and lots of practice. It all begins with creating and preparing content for international readers and ensuring that the source texts can be easily translated.  With technical or potentially complex texts, ensuring that writing for translation is done according to the best practices is crucial. It’s always crucial that nothing gets lost in translation. The translation process provides a way for an author to refine content further so that its suitable for different audiences. Writing content with translation in mind will increase its readability and quality of your target translations. Here are important tips to remember when writing for translation.

  • Use the standard English word order

The standard English word order in a sentence structure is subject-verb-object and the associated modifiers. When writing for translation always ensure that you utilize the proper punctuation and the correct grammatical structure. When writing for a global audience always check for basic grammatical and spelling mistakes as they are easily transferable across source and target languages. Translators find and flag source errors. However, this shouldn’t replace proofreading the original text or the source text.

  • Use the active voice

When writing for translation, its best to avoid using the passive voice. Active voice is not only easier to translate but also is direct and better understood. “By” and “Was are some of the words that could indicate that the author used a passive voice.

  • Use relative pronouns

“Which” and “that” are examples of relative pronouns. Relative pronouns are not always necessary, but they may improve the understanding of content. Instead of assuming, it’s always good to go over your content to ensure that relative pronouns have been included.

  • Avoid phrasal verbs

This is a verb form containing one or more articles, for example, using “ran into” instead of “met”. Phrasal verbs usually tend to complicate translation of content as they are likely to have multiple meanings and they are less formal. Phrasal verbs don’t exist in languages like German so be on the lookout for two or three-word verbs.

  • Don’t use long noun strings

Readers have to infer the relationship between words when the connecting elements are omitted from noun strings. If takes you longer to understand a sentence, then it’s likely that further complications may arise when the same sentence is translated into another language. Most times use of long noun strings results in the misinterpretation of the texts original meaning and the translation may appear literal.

  • Use a single term to identify single concepts

Synonyms hamper the clarity of content. Every time you write something, ensure you write it the same exact way. Writing a single concept in different ways will reduce the translation memory leverage as well as the overall consistency of translation. This will result in higher costs, increased turnaround time and decrease in quality of content. Minor changes to a word have great impact on the translation of content as translation memories leverage words in segments. Instead of translating content from scratch, always consider using the existing content that is already translated.

  • International dates

The day-month-year order is different depending on where you are. For example, 07/09/2017 reads July in the U.S. and September in Switzerland. When writing international dates spell out the month rather than writing the number. It is acceptable to use the month’s abbreviation when space is limited.

When it comes to numbers in general, always spell out the units and avoid abbreviation. Use the metric system and style guide for each language pair when it comes to measurements. When it comes to currency, it’s important to be specific by indicating the currency with its correct abbreviation like CAD or USD. Avoid currency symbols and colloquial phrases that relate to money. They don’t translate so well.

  • Avoid humor

Humor almost never translates with equivalency. The same goes for metaphors, idioms, jargon or regional phrases. Different languages have idiomatic expressions, jargons, and phrases that are sometimes shorthand for long sentences. For example, “later” is a shorthand for “I’ll see you later”, phrases like “grand slam” or metaphors like “cat got your tongue?” .These expressions not only vary by language but they also vary in locality and regions. Unfortunately, expressions are not globally appreciated or understood, and they don’t translate. A literal translation of such an expression, phrase or metaphor may be unintentionally humorous or meaningless to a foreign audience. Sometimes a real equivalent for other cultures or non-native English speakers may not exist. Be very careful to avoid humor, expressions, jargons and phrases when writing for translation.

  • Make sure the text fits

As compared to other languages, English text is usually shorter. This means that sufficient space of up to 35% is always needed for expansion. Particularly for graphics and software interfaces. When it comes to translation from English, a difference exists in the sentence length and individual word length because some languages use compound words. Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften which is translated from – insurance companies providing legal protection – is recognized as the longest German word in the Guinness Book of World Records. You need to be prepared for such cumbersome words that won’t fit into the allotted space. Anticipating such challenges when writing for translation will save you a lot of headaches, time and money.

  • Always keep sentences brief

Brief sentences increasing the understanding of content. Aim for sentences with less than 20 words as they are simpler to translate and it increases comprehension. Read your sentences once you are done as it ensures you to keep them short and simplified.

In today’s global world, our way of writing and speaking affects other people on a wider scale. Ambiguous phrases lose their meaning and sometimes cause confusion to non-native speakers of a language. When writing for a global audience the source text serves as the base for all the translated content in other languages. As the number of target languages to translate your content increases, the impact of the source content also increases. When writing content with translation in mind its critical to write right the first time.

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