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September 29, 2003 Program Summary by Adele Sommers

Six Show-Stopping Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid When Developing Content for Global Consumption”

Speaker Amy KardelLocal translation expert Amy Kardel (right), principal of Global Accent Translation Services, a San Luis Obispo-based agency, riveted our attention on the ABCs of translating content for international consumers at this lively meeting. Her entertaining, rapid-fire style left few topics uncovered as she fielded dozens of questions during the highly interactive session.

Amy provided definitions of confusing translation terminology, a description of the fascinating work her company does, and tips on how to stay out of trouble when preparing to have content translated.

Did you know . . .

  • Interpretation is the act of concomitantly listening to information in one language and verbally speaking it in another. Translation refers to the act of transcribing information from one language to another in written form.
  • Many requests are for English-to-English translations! Similar to other technical communicators, translators are often asked to take dense prose and convert it into eighth grade, understandable Communicating internationallylanguage as part of a “low-literacy English translation.
  • There are very few trilingual translators. To be highly proficient in only two languages is quite a feat. Even bilingual translators typically translate from a “B” language (not their strongest) to an “A” language (their strongest). However, many can interpret from an “A” to a “B” language.
  • Translation is a huge industry, with about $13 billion spent annually on information conversion. This figure may double by 2007. The most commonly translated materials include business information, software interfaces, Web content, and presentations.
  • To stay current in a language, translators typically live in a country that speaks their “A” language — they must either use it constantly or lose it!
  • Estimating a translation job entails a complex process, as many factors must be taken into account. For example, how soon is the translation needed? In what context? What languages are involved? How much content redundancy exists? Computer-assisted translation (CAT) can offer powerful assistance by electronically parsing samples of the material to create a lexicon of reusable information chunks, which can result in more accurate estimates and lower translation costs. However, the real work still must be performed by a human being — at the rate of six to eight pages per day and $.25 a word. The mantra to repeat when first developing the content is “cut the fat”!

Alphabet soup! Key terms demystified . . .

  • Globalization (sometimes abbreviated “G11n”) refers to getting an entire enterprise ready to do business with foreign audiences. All internal and external business functions must be prepared to respond to phone calls, correspondence, customer support requests, and other types of contacts, whether or not translation occurs.
  • Internationalization (sometimes abbreviated “I18n”) pertains to planning how the content, format, and layout should be modified to accommodate translation and also convey sensitivity and respect for other cultures. Considerations include the inevitable 25%-50% expansion of textual content when translating from English to the “FIGS” languages (French, Italian, German, and Spanish), for example; adjusting the widths of columns, field labels, and templates accordingly; and carefully evaluating the use of images, phrases, and humor to avoid violating any cultural sensitivities.
  • Localization (sometimes abbreviated “L10n”) involves the actual translation required to make a product understandable in a particular language and culture. Even within English, significant orthographic variations exist. Localization also entails the conversion of currencies, dates, times, symbols, units of measurement, forms of transportation, and even common sounds! A car horn in the U.S. honks very differently from the corresponding bleeps and warbles in Europe, for example.

And above all, avoid the six deadly translation sins . . .

1. Don't underestimate the amount of time it will take to translate your material. Expecting too much too fast can compromise the quality and also increase the cost.

2. Make sure communication channels are wide open. If translators have unanswered questions or lack access to the most current project materials, it can result in delays and misinterpretations at a critical juncture in your project. Develop a responsive query process for translators to use.

3. Don't embed textual information in graphics. It will all need to be translated! And, since the text will most likely expand, the graphics would have to be redesigned. Better to use a more generic image with outside “callouts” — text boxes that contain editable information — to explain specific areas of the graphics.

4. Design user interfaces with longer labels in mind. The expansion of words and phrases in various languages requires extra planning in the area of software interface design.

5. Be consistent with phrases in the original material. Consistency (even if it seems boring) cuts down translation costs considerably, since accurate, speedy translation depends on the ability to reuse chunks of information whenever possible.

6. Avoid cultural and technical faux pas! A cultural embarrassment is one that involves using images, symbols, or phrases that have derogatory, insulting, or off-color meanings in other cultures. A technical embarrassment is one that involves a failure to convert measurements from one context to another, for example, which can result in dangerous or expensive project mistakes.

Photography by Mary Meyer.
Six Show-Stopping Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid When Developing Content for Global Consumption
Date: Monday evening, September 29, 2003 (the fifth Monday of the month this time)

Amy Katherine Kardel, M.A., brings over ten years of professional experience in international communications and product localization to the topic. She is the founder of Global Accent Translation Services, a San Luis Obispo-based translation agency that provides technology, business and government with foreign language services. Recent projects include the translation of software interfaces, help, documentation, general business and government correspondence and web sites. She also consults on quality assurance review practices for translations.


“Six Show-Stopping Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid When Developing Content for Global Consumption” focused on what it takes to “go global” today. Much of the technical information and marketing content you are now developing ultimately may be perused by international audiences. Anything posted for public consumption on the Web, for example, is available for global viewing. Whether or not you translate your information, your message will be more understandable to foreign audiences when you follow a few simple guidelines.

Our speaker also accentuated the positive: How working with your translation service early in the game, even before content is developed, can lead to the most satisfying, cost- and schedule-effective outcome.

Door Prize: We gave away a basket of delicious international foods!


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