Top 5 strategies when writing content for translation

translation, source content, localisation

Here’s a little tip for making your translation team’s lives easier and saving you time and money! It’s all about making sure that your source text is optimised for translation. That’s the content your in-house copywriters or marketing agency writes, which then gets sent to your translation partner to be translated.

The following five strategies will help ensure that your source text doesn’t slow down translation times or create more work than necessary. Getting this right streamlines the translation process and keeps your translation costs down. Good reasons to follow the advice below!

  1. Use short sentences

Clear concise sentences are much easier to understand and translate than long, complicated ones. Aim to keep each sentence below 20 words and ask yourself, “Can I simplify this further?” A second opinion from a colleague, or reading the sentence aloud can help you decide whether a sentence conveys exactly what you want it to say.

  1. Be consistent

In English there are often many words that mean the same thing. For example, we talk about ‘mowing the lawn’ or ‘cutting the grass’ when essentially we mean the same thing. However, in other languages there may be very clear differences between ‘lawn’ and ‘grass’ or even ‘mowing’ and ‘cutting’. If your source text uses lots of different words or phrases for the same concept or noun, you could end up with a very inconsistent translation. That’s why a glossary of terminology is so useful. In it you can list the key phrases and terms your company uses across different content, and ensure the text is consistent both in English and in other languages.

  1. Use proper grammar and punctuation

We have grammar and punctuation for a reason – to make sentences clear and understandable! Incorrect uses of grammar and punctuation create problems for your translation team. It can result in the translation placing the wrong emphasis on a word or phrase, or being mistranslated.

  1. Avoid puns, humour and jargon

We use a lot of puns, humour and jargon in the English language. It’s often second nature to include them in your content, because that’s how we communicate with each other. However, these phrases generally don’t translate into other languages, and cause translators a bit of a headache! Finding comparable puns or jokes in the target language is often impossible, and even when there are similar expressions they might not mean exactly the same thing. Best to avoid completely.

  1. Use the active voice

Where possible avoid the passive voice as this can be difficult to translate and creates uncertainty about the meaning. In some languages some verbs cannot be used in the passive form, and therefore a literal translation will not make sense.

For example in Spanish the passive voice is rarely used. If you want to translate “Juan was sent a package” the passive form in Spanish doesn’t work, “Juan fue enviado un paquete.” In this example the reader may think that Juan was sent somewhere, not that he received a package.

An active, direct voice is much easier to translate. Instead the source text could say, “Juan received a package”, which in Spanish is “Juan recibió un paquete.”

If you’re worried that simplifying your source text, removing humour, and adhering to grammatical rules and correct punctuation will result in very bland text: don’t be!

When your source text is easy to translate, your translation team can localise the text for each target market. This includes conveying your brand voice, personality and values so that the translated content is engaging and resonates with your audience. To find out more about localisation you may like to read Susan’s post on Reaching global audiences with localised and engaging content.

Any questions? If you have any questions about preparing source content for translation please get in touch. You will also find further help and guidance on our downloads page here.

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