The importance of style and tone of voice in translation

Posted: 11 Sep 2023

Why do style and tone matter?

Have you considered the importance of tone of voice in communication with your international audience? We all accept the importance of translation in sharing information and ideas across borders, yet how we communicate those ideas is equally important.

Every localisation brief should include details of style and tone of voice. Just like you wouldn’t brief a creative copywriter or designer without a sense of voice or brand style, it’s the same with translations.

Going beyond words in translation

We’ve often discussed the factors that contribute to a great translation. You’ll notice they don’t usually involve translating the text literally word by word. Everything from your intent and target audience to cultural context and your brand’s personality affects the translation process. Otherwise, we’d all be using Google Translate and other machine translators. But it’s not that easy – there’s a lot more to it than literal translations of words on a page.

As well as ensuring accuracy and quality, it’s also essential to give consideration to style and tone of voice in translations. Interestingly, this may result in content that isn’t exactly the same as in the original text. It might seem counterintuitive, but literal translations aren’t necessarily more accurate. In some situations, it may be more appropriate to use a slightly different style; what works in one country may not work as well in another. Therefore, it’s essential in any localisation and translation project to prioritise “style” on the localisation brief.

What to consider in a translation style guide

As you can imagine, when we’re working with clients on multilingual projects, the localisation brief can run to many pages. Guidelines will include preferred uses of certain words, but will also address the primary tone of voice and style of the piece. Tones can vary significantly from formal and professional to informal and conversational, or reserved and serious to upbeat and enthusiastic. Alternatively, you can combine styles such as authoritative yet friendly, funny yet supportive and caring, etc. If your tone is funny, what kind of humour are you aiming for – witty, dry, quirky, cheeky, irreverent or absurd?

As you can see, this level of nuance can affect the ability to translate content literally. Humour and emotive copy are highly culture-dependent. A skilled translator can adapt these elements, ensuring the humour remains funny and emotions are conveyed appropriately without misunderstanding or offence.

But it’s not just a question of deciding on whether to use formal or informal pronouns, it’s also about making a decision about how closely to translate the style and tone of voice used in your original copy.

What style suits your local market?

If you’ve been operating in overseas markets for some time, you’ll probably already have a clear idea of how to localise your translation projects for particular regions. But if you’re just starting out in a new territory, it’s worthwhile getting some local insight before embarking on a translation project.

Comtec’s team of linguists and localisation experts can assess existing material and its appropriateness for a given country or region. The brief is always to align translations with the company values or brand proposition, while giving feedback that will make communications more effective in a specific region.

Often it’s useful to find other sector-specific material to use as a reference. This might be your own previously translated copy or examples of effective marketing material from other sources.

What specialist terminology should you include in your translation style guide?

Information regarding terminology should also be included in your style guide. There may be sector or company specific terminology to be used in the translations. However, there may also be instances where particular terminology needs to be avoided. For example, internal communications are likely to reflect the terminology used within your business, and specifically in that region – whereas marketing material might use more everyday language.

We often create two or more translation memories for clients with distinctively different styles for particular channels. A manufacturer might favour an informal style using specialist terminology for the retailers who stock their products, whereas their translation materials for direct sales (i.e. the customer) could be jargon-free but more formal. We use translators who work in their native language, have an expert understanding of specific sectors and demonstrate an in-depth cultural knowledge of the target country.


Call in the translation tone of voice experts

As you can see, to get a good translation out of any material, it’s important to put in some thought and preparation. Your communication style and tone of voice can make or break a successful translation. 


The importance of tone of voice in translation relies on faithfulness to the source text with an appropriate adaptation of style and tone to suit the target audience. Likewise, the importance of translation having a human touch cannot be overestimated. 


The more detail you can give your translator, the better. An experienced translator, with a deep understanding of both the source and target languages and cultures, can skillfully handle these nuances and deliver a high-quality translation,

If you would like some help developing a style guide for your translation projects, please get in touch. We’re here ready and waiting to help.

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