When writing copy that you intend to have translated into different languages now or even at some point down the road, it’s always a great idea to think translation – that is, think in terms of how easy it will be to express the same ideas and concepts in different languages.
Here are a few useful tips:
• Write clearly and accurately
• Avoid buzzwords, slang and colloquial expressions
• Use short, simple sentence structures—this will greatly impact on the cost of translation
• A picture is worth a thousand words – try to replace as much text as possible with images
• Provide context whenever possible, especially with words that may be ambiguous or have double meanings
• Avoid unclear modifiers and modifier strings
• Provide call-outs for illustrations, photos and graphics
• Be consistent in the use of terms
• Avoid abbreviations and acronyms when possible
• Avoid long and complex sentences
• Provide a glossary including company, industry, and product-specific terminology
• Allow plenty of S P A C E for translation expansion
• For software strings and code, allow sufficient string length for translation expansion
• For page layout, provide plenty of white space to accommodate translation expansion (up to 30%)
• All art and graphics should be able to move or be reduced in size in layouts
• When possible, write in very straightforward way that is understandable even by a 10 year old
• Cross-cultural items – how transferable are your messages and images to other languages and cultures?
• Items that are irrelevant or that may create target culture ambiguities
• Specialized terms and expressions – will they lead to confusion?
• How will acronyms and abbreviations be translated
• Will numerical values require conversion from imperial to metric?
Manufacturers who are serious about international growth must devise codes (for ordering, for example) that are not based on English. If your code for a camping product, for example, is based on English, such as an INdoor 200 SEries Lighting System with DIMmer and is “IN-200SE-LS-DIM”, there’s a very good chance translators will not be able to solve this problem. If a manufacturer’s computerized ordering system recognizes only English-based codes, translators are not in the position to re-invent the codes. In a foreign language, it would be impossible to find words that all begin with the same letters and put them into the same order as in English to preserve the code format. The solution can only be the manufacturer’s responsibility, which in this case would be to modify the ordering system codes so that they are universal to all languages.
Consider this scenario:
An American biotech company that manufactures medical diagnostics systems was providing a condensed version of the printer manuals that accompanied the automated instruments they sold. Any one of five different brands of printers were included in the shipment of these systems, so there was an entire 80-page section of their user manuals dedicated to all five of the different printers.
In Europe, they simply provided the actual printer manual itself (the one provided by the printer manufacturer) instead of reproducing it in a condensed form and including it as a section of the user manual. Apparently, the Americans believed that this was a more user-friendly approach to rewrite the printer manual (=reinventing the wheel).
Of course, in terms of translation alone, this ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars per year. These 80 pages were translated into 5 major European languages, when they simply could have included the already translated French version of a printer (for example) for the French market.
The technical writer in charge presented this situation to the Global Marketing Manager who immediately agreed to follow the same procedure implemented in Europe. From that day on, the 80-page printer section was omitted and never translated again. Instead, the printer manual was included in the shipment. Furthermore, no customer ever complained…