Last week, a marketing manager of a global investment company called me. He was referred to me by a colleague. They are launching the company’s website in Italy and had it translated into Italian by a global translation company. However, they were not convinced of the Italian translation and asked me for an opinion and for a review.
I started reading the translations. I could not find big mistakes, such as grammar or spelling. The main issue was that the text sounded too much like a translation. Sometimes I could not even understand the Italian without reading the English source. This lead to various misinterpretations. Moreover, it was translated literally, and Website menus and buttons were too long for the Internet layout.
It was evident that nobody visited the English website before or during the translation process. You could understand it from naïve mistakes, where charts were confused with tables, buttons mistaken for menus, and the translated metaphors had nothing to do with the image shown online.
Translators were not informed (and probably did not ask) about the intended destination, the target reader, the “ideal” client of the website. Who was going to read and visit it? Institutional or retail investors? Should the language be easy to understand for everybody, or specifically directed to investment professionals. What is the brand “tone”, formal or informal?
A 20 minute call with the client’s local team was enough to understand their expectations and draft a very short “style guide” for an effective translation into Italian: words not to be translated, reference materials, a description of the market they wanted to reach in order to launch their products in Italy. A professional translator can start from such information to hone the language for the purpose.
When talking about style guides or manuals of style, you may think they are too academic, while a simple short guide for effective writing is a valuable reference for translators and does not need to be too complicated. You can combine this guide with glossaries and reference material to do a better job, a translation that does not sound like a translated text, but as an original document improving the quality of the message, increasing the audience engagement, and even cutting costs.