The Translation Nightmare Before Christmas in Strasbourg, France

Claimant to the title of “capital of Europe”, the French city of Strasbourg is known all over Europe for its institutions like the European Council where hundreds of translators and interpreters help politicians communicate. But it is also the self-proclaimed capital city of Christmas, known all over the world for its numerous markets and its exquisite local food.

Located close to the German border, Strasbourg is part of the “Alsace” region where German is probably the most commonly spoken language after French and the local dialect “l’alsacien”. You’d think that language skills would be quite developed in such an international place. Yet, I spotted a funny translation blunder in a hotel in the city centre. As is sometimes the case, hotel owners resort to Google Translate when they only have a few words to translate (ex: instructions in the bathroom), either for financial reasons or just practical considerations. They probably think that given how short these sentences are, the machine cannot get them wrong… well, in this case a proofreader would have been put to good use… Granted, the message can still be well understood, but I reckon it’s not ideal and it reflects poorly on their image. When it’s bound to be pinned on the wall, it’s always best to have it proofread first.

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But don’t let yourself be put off by the wrong grammar and get outside to soak in the magic and explore the numerous Christmas markets. Start with the one located in the borough called “La Petite France”. There, you’ll find the traditional half-timbered houses. Keep on walking and you’ll finP1520911ally end up in “Place Gutenberg” where they usually host a Christmas market honouring a European country. It changes every year.

It’s very close to the impressive cathedral where there is yet another Christmas market. Don’t forget to stop by the visitors’ centre. You can’t miss it, it is located in the building with massive gingerbread decorations.

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And for all the fairy-tale lovers out there, under no circumstances whatsoever should you miss the boutique called “La maison de Hanssen & Gretel”. It is like stepping in a life-size dollhouse filled with Christmas decorations and magic. It’s located in a narrow street close to the cathedral.

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The most famous Christmas market remains the one called “Christkindelsmärik” in the pure German tradition. Don’t forget to sample some of the local food there! Anything with German-sounding names is bound to be delicious!

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Translation in the Retail Industry

I recently translated a fascinating presentation about the major changes happening in the retail industry. Although it appears to be all about mobile technology, personalised recommendations and entertainment, the major X factor for successful application is language/communication, and the shadow counterpart: translation.

A Globalised Market | Offering Multilingual and Localised Content

With the advent of the Internet and, more recently, mobile technology, consumers can now purchase products and services anywhere, anytime, from the comfort of their homes, using their mobile phones while at work or during their commute. Options are limitless.

Now many companies take the virtual route, anyone in the world can access their online shops. They can potentially reach anyone on the planet with an Internet connection. But, being able to approach new clients is one thing. Being able to communicate with them is another, a major factor that can make or break sales.

Thanks to surveys, it is now known that Internet users prefer to purchase on a site that provides content in their own language. Offering multilingual websites is really important. You will see the benefit on your bottom line, provided that you used the services of a professional linguist.

The era of brick-and-mortar looks dead and gone? Think again!

The Age of Entertainment and Personalised Services

Physical shops arent’s going anywhere. They simply need to adapt to the new market and the changes in the way consumers purchase items. Mass production is rapidly losing its appeal, and it is now all about offering highly personalised, targeted and bespoke services/items.

Marketing professionals are now trying to figure out what individuals will want and need in the near future. They even possess the tools and algorithms to cater to these needs on a much deeper level. Thanks to predictive personalisation, social media and mobile technology, they can create highly bespoke offers. Using apps and geofencing, they can boost their sales and drive people to purchase goods they weren’t considering buying. Retail 2.0 is here and ready to take your retail experience to new heights!

In order to attract clients in brick-and-mortar shops, creative directors have their work cut out for them. They are now completely rethinking the way products are displayed (magical worlds for kids, etc.), the types of services offered (WiFi lounge, kids playground, coffee lounge, etc.), the way products are available (showrooms, etc.) among other things.

The world is the retail industry’s oyster. And to further its expansion and changes, language and translation will be a crucial part of the process.

Food For Thought (for translation clients)

Following up on translation-related blogs, here’s a quote I found on http://translatorfun.com.

It is great food for thought, a great saying that ALL clients considering purchasing translation services should ponder and meditate…

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

5 Translation Blogs I Like to Follow

Although translation blogs remain “niche” blogs, there are quite a lot of them out there. If I had to recommend only a handful of them, it would probably be those listed below. Either for information, fun or advice, you’re bound to find something useful, whether you are a translator or a client.

Translation Times (http://translationtimes.blogspot.fr) is curated by the famous Jenner Twins. It’s very diversified, interesting and pleasant to read.

Trëma Translations (http://www.trematranslations.com/fran%C3%A7ais/blog/) by Gaëlle Gagné. It is written in French, so mainly addressed to French translators. It’s really informative and adapted to translators working in France. Lately, I really liked the author’s post about retirement plans that independent translators should consider. It’s never too early, right?

Thoughts on Translation (http://thoughtsontranslation.com/) by Corinne McKay. As mentioned on the site, she is an ATA-certified French to English translator. She launched Thoughts on Translation in February, 2008 as a way to connect and share ideas with freelance translators around the world.

Translator Thoughts (http://translatorthoughts.com/) is a great site to read when launching your freelance activity. Nice layout, user friendly, filled with practical info, you should find all that you need to set up your website and fine tune your translation skills.

Sara Colombo Translations (http://saracolombotranslations.com/blog/). I really enjoy her colourful and dynamic site. She publishes insightful blogs and engages on social network.

Do you have other translation-related blogs you enjoy reading?

A Quick Guide to Purchasing Translation Services

Following my post on “5 myths about the translation industry”, I thought it would be good to do a follow-up and offer some sound advice to future (or existing) buyers of translation services.

1/ Determine the purpose of your documents that need to be translated

Is it to attract potential clients (commercial, promotional material) or to send updates to your employees and investors (informational content)? This is crucial to determine the register and terminology applied.

2/ Your budget should not be the only factor weighing in when choosing a translator

The most common mistake would be to accept the cheapest quote. Such a choice could potentially cost you a lot more in damage control (see previous post mentioning translation blunders high-profile businesses had to face)! You can have two among the three options: quality/fast/cheap. Choose wisely.

Also, make sure that you are only sending the most important documents for translation. No need to have it all translated in bulk. Stick with one vendor so that overtime, you’ll have the possibility to request a discount on repetitive sections that emerge in the database created by the translator.

3/ Make sure you send all the necessary documents and reference files to your translator.

Communication is key to a successful partnership. If you have glossaries, reference files, or any other support material that could help your translator in applying the proper style and terminology, do send them along with the source file.

It would be completely counter-productive to get back to your translator after the project has been delivered in order to complain about the wrong use of terminology. Do yourself and your vendor a favour and prepare the project in a sensible manner. You would both benefit from it!

4/ The difference between a real mistake and a perceived error

I’ll be straightforward with that one: you may have learned the language in school, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it allows you to make a sound assessment of the translation. I strongly suggest that you have the files proofread by a professional linguist. A third neutral opinion is the best compromise in order to settle any disagreements. Wouldn’t you agree?

If you wish to implement some preferential changes, let the translator know. But please, bear in mind that preferential changes are, by definition, completely subjective edits that should not be used to question the overall quality of the translation. A mistranslation and a stylistic choice are two very different notions.

I hope this will be useful in your quest for translators. If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to help you out!

5 Myths about the Translation Industry

If you are looking to purchase translation services, the following article will give you important insight to help you make an informed decision when selecting an LSP (language service provider).

Before accepting a quote, you should first and foremost determine what you really need/want from this business transaction (quality/fast/cheap). Know that you can only pick two; so you want to choose wisely! And here’s why…

Myth #1: Being bilingual is enough to produce good translations and to proofread

Reducing costs is always a priority for companies (big or small). However, some choices could potentially bring about more problems. Your communication plan is critical to your image and sales. Chances are you spent a fair amount of time polishing your English communication (website, brochure, advert material, etc.). So why would you trust the critical mission of translating these strategic documents to someone who’s not a professional?

You have probably heard about the many translation blunders high-profile companies had to deal with in the past. For instance, in 2009 HSBC bank had to spend 10 million dollars on a campaign aimed at repairing the damage caused by the mistranslation of a catchphrase. In the 1990s, Body Shop launched a new product line that, when translated, actually contained vulgar terms in Puerto Rico slang. It tarnished the image of the company and ever since, it’s had difficulties entering this market.

The cost of these (avoidable) blunders was far greater than what it would have cost to actually hire a professional translator. So, my piece of advice would to be to consider the risks before accepting the cheapest quote.

Myth #2: Computer-generated translations are a safe choice to reduce cost

As it happens, some companies resort to a new strategy to reduce translation costs. They use automatic translation softwares such as Google Translate and the likes to get a “translation foundation” so that they only have to request a proofreading task (logically less expensive). I cannot stress this enough… but this is absolutely counter-productive. In 99,99% of the case, the text produced by these machines will be so bad and incomprehensible that translating from scratch is the only solution! For a mutually beneficial business relationship, all parties should be valued and respected for their work.

When applying this approach, you are setting yourself up for a massive disaster (see myth #1). To get attractive rates from serious, professional translators, I suggest that you implement the following changes in your source documents:

¤ Remove any obscure acronyms or jargon that only your company uses (Unless the translator is an in-house employee, he/she won’t be aware of any of them and you would have to spend time explaining them)

¤ Make sure the formatting is simple and doesn’t require any kind of DTP work.

¤ Only include the parts that really need translating. Review your files and only send the most important ones to the translator.

¤ Work with the same translator because he/she will be able to create a database of your past projects over time. And then, when similar projects come up, you could potentially get a discount on repetitive sections.

Myth #3: There can only be a “one size fits all” standard, so requesting a back translation is a safe quality control process

Let’s make something clear from the start: if you had your documents translated by 100 different translators, you would get 100 different versions! That’s a fact. And if you’re working with professional, reliable practitioners, all 100 versions would actually be accurate. Every translator has a different writing style and will make arbitrary decisions. One translator said “nice” when the other used the term “kind”. Different words/choices for the same result.

That’s why using another translator to perform a back translation is NOT a guarantee of quality. This new professional will not use the same words as the author of the source text. Most of all, he could implement mistakes in this new version and lead you to think that the translation is incorrect. You would have no way of knowing it. This process is so random that you should not consider this process as a safe quality control procedure. A third party proofreader/reviser remains the safest option.

Myth #4: Big agencies are more convenient than independent translators

It all depends on your needs. If you’re looking to have your documents translated in 15 different languages, you might prefer to centralise the process and use the services of an agency that’s in contact with a huge number of translators in a wide array of language pairs. However, agencies remain the middle man and they do not always hire translators as PMs. So, the project managers you deal with may not be completely familiar with everything that goes into translating, a major disadvantage when it comes to meeting your needs.

A small business or a one-person business (as is the case with the majority of independent translators) can offer a more personalised business relationship. The decision-making process is also much faster because there’s a limited number of people involved. You don’t need to go through a myriad of employees before getting in touch with the CFO for instance.

On the financial front, it is often more cost-effective because a small business doesn’t have the same overhead costs. So, by hiring an independent translator, you would save money, get bespoke services and communicate more easily. Indeed, an independent translator could get back to you outside of business hours if needed. And if you’re in a bind, he/she could also commit to work on weekends or bank holidays in order to meet your needs. It would naturally incur a higher fee, but only small businesses can offer such flexibility!

Myth #5: A translator asking questions about the source text must be incompetent (or lazy)

A rigourous translator may, at some point, ask you a couple of questions if the source text you sent includes some obscure terms (jargon, acronyms, etc.) or isn’t quite clear. It is actually very positive. It shows the translator is making sure the terminology applied is accurate.

But I understand this can be a nuisance, especially when you are yourself quite busy. To avoid  lengthy email exchanges that would be time-consuming for both parties, I suggest your make sure beforehand that the source text is clear, well-written and free of mistakes (you’d be surprised to see the number of source texts that are poorly written!). If you already have glossaries, style guides or reference documents, do send them to your translator along with the source text that needs to be translated.

I hope you found these pieces of advice useful and practical. For more information, feel free to contact me.