30 Sep 2013

Avoiding the 5 most common mistakes in translating marketing materials

translation tipsTranslation quality can dramatically impact the way a prospective student, partner institution, or other important audience perceives your institution. Universities devote ample time and money translating their marketing materials to reach their international audiences – so how is it that many still end up publishing subpar translations? Here are five common pitfalls to avoid in order to get better translations.


Problem #1: Automatically choosing a one-to-one translation

Rarely will your international and domestic audiences need the same information expressed exactly the same way. Except for legal or highly technical texts, the content will likely need to be changed to get the right message across to your key audiences.

Solution: Be very clear on your goals for each section and page and keep your audience’s perspective in mind so that you can decide what the final text should contain to meet your readers’ needs.

Problem #2: Assuming that all native speakers are good translators

You wouldn’t ask just anyone to write marketing copy, would you? Somehow the bar for translation often seems much lower, and institutions find someone (anyone!) who is a native speaker to do the job – even if that person has been in the host country for decades.

Solution: Translation and copywriting are skills, so finding people who have experience or talent in this area is important. Before deciding on a translator, ask him/her to translate an excerpt of the text to get a sense of his/her ability and style, even if you have to pay for the sample.

Problem #3: Avoiding translation agencies

Agencies may not get to know your institution as well as a single individual could, but they likely have access to many more qualified translators, as well as translation software that can really help with consistency. Plus, they are generally able to take on whatever projects you need, on your timeline.

Solution: Select an agency with great quality assurance mechanisms that can cover any language pairings you need.

Problem #4: Not providing enough information to the translator

The biggest mishaps can come about by not giving the translator or agency a thorough briefing on the project. Good translators will ask what they need to know, but you can always provide extra information that might help the end result.

Solution: Let the translator know where the document will be published, who will read it, what the goals for the text are – as well as basic information like the regional variation (i.e. British or American English) and any style guides or glossaries that your institution uses.

Problem #5: Skipping the editing phase

Writing is subjective: even the best translator may have a slightly different take on a phrase than you would. Plan for at least one round of revisions. Again, you (hopefully!) wouldn’t let someone publish something on your website or in a brochure without having anyone else review it first, right?

Solution: Ask a native speaker in the target language to give the final text at least a cursory overview. Decide if you want them to look only for errors or to really fine-tune the style.

Bonus tip

It is not always necessary to have a perfect translation – sometimes making an effort to reach out in another language can have a positive impact even if there are a few rough edges. The more you need to convince someone of your institution’s ability to operate in that language, the better it is to follow the tips above!

  • Andrew Smith

    I’d add that for effective digital marketing, if used at all….. requires a slightly different language including key search expressions, which in English does not equate to Shakespearean language.

    Further, interpretation is better than translation, e.g. discuss key concepts, have the writer seek out the use of argot e.g. is it Education in X vs Study in X? Agree upon the key words or search terms (via Google Analytics) and write around these words, not unlike EFL writing activities.

  • Oliver Lawrence

    Although I agree with the article as a whole, point 3 is not necessarily true. Professional freelance translators, too, use high-tech tools to ensure consistency and assure quality. If you select a qualified professional – e.g. from the published lists of members of a professional institute like the CIoL, the ITI or the ATA – then you can be sure of excellent results, tailored personally to suit your needs. By cutting out the middle man, you can also expect to save some money.

    The only circumstances in which it pays to use an agency is if you need your materials translated into multiple languages; then, the agency can genuinely add value by acting as a single port of call to coordinate the project and all the individual translators.

    It is also worth emphasising that a professional, elegant, effective, persuasive translation that presents your organisation in the best light can only be obtained from a qualified, experienced professional translator. Anything else is likely to be a false economy.