13 Tips to Remember when Writing for Translation

Written by Tim Kaney of The Geo Group Corporation.

1. Remember to leave white space. Most foreign languages will run 20-25% longer than written English. If a formatter has to add space to a translated document for it to fit, time lines will increase and so will costs.

2. Remember to write short, simple sentences. Writing long, complicated sentences in English will only slow the translation process down, increasing time lines and costs. Not to mention there will be a higher chance of a confusing translation.

3. Try to use terminology consistently. Using consistent terminology will not only result in cost-saving for you, but it will result in much more clear and precise translations of your material. That will make your material as accessible as it can be for your target foreign language audience.

4. Avoid idioms. Idioms such as “Kick the bucket” may have a clear meaning in English, but most likely will not in other languages. In most cases, a phrase such as this would be translated literally and mass confusion would ensue.

5. Avoid Acronyms. Also known as initialisms, these abbreviations will not always translate exactly as the phrases they represent will not always have the same letters in them. Beyond that, they may not always represent the same thing in the targeted foreign language audience. It is usually best to spell these phrases out completely to ensure the most accurate terminology and translation.

6. Try to use visuals wherever possible. Including visuals of what is being translated can greatly increase comprehension and understanding from your target audience. A graphic of what you are trying to say will often clear up any confusion.

7. Consider cultural differences. Make sure to explore the cultural differences between your source language and its culture and your target audience’s. Sometimes figures of speech and even non-localized graphics to depict the target audience can be offensive. Also make sure that your message means the same thing in your target language.

8. Consider selecting a well-qualified reviewer. Having a native-speaking reviewer with industry experience in the target language will greatly increase accuracy in highly technical translations laden with jargon.

9. Plan ahead for non-translatable terms. Make annotations in your project outline if there are terms that cannot be translated. Examples might be measurements or currency. If you decide to make these accessible to your target foreign language audience, make sure they are correct.

10. Decide what will stay in English. This can include part numbers, legal information, product names, logos, and graphic call-outs (not recommended). If these need to stay in English, be sure to make a note of that and inform your translator or agency to avoid unnecessary time and money expenses. Consistency in these selections are also extremely important.

11. Accommodate 2 byte Asian fonts. If you plan on translating your material into Asian languages, be sure that the document is already formatted to support that language. A typical English font is encoded differently and needs to be changed at the point of formatting in order to properly display an Asian font. Try to look for Unicode versions for Arial, Myriad Pro, and Times.

12. Try to use thick Asian fonts. Using thick Asian fonts is a good thing for legibility, plain and simple. If you can find one, use it. Your target language audience will be happy.

13. Check computer and language compatibility. You can check this on a PC, however I don’t know if there is an option like it on a Mac. You can change the language and region settings in order to properly display foreign languages on your computer. Just give this a glance and make sure you are creating your document in the desired language compatibility mode.

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