Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trust Me on This - Don't Ask Your Bilingual Friend or Employee to Translate Important Stuff

I know what you're thinking. Professional translation services can be expensive. My [website, mobile app, annual report, insert any number of things your company could need translated; the options are practically limitless] has a ton of words, and I don't want to dip into my budget to pay for something like that. Oh, I've got it! Suzanne, who works in sales, grew up in France. I'll ask her to translate my [insert any number of things your company could need translated] into French.

It sounds like the perfect solution, doesn't it? It costs $0.00, and surely someone who is bilingual is just as qualified as a professional translator to translate your [insert any number of things your company could need translated], right? Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way.

Bilingualism ≠ Good Translator 

At a glance, it may seem as though any bilingual person can automatically be a translator because they are fluent in two languages; however, this perception is, quite simply put, 100% incorrect. Believing that any bilingual person is automatically a good translator is like believing that anyone who speaks English can be a New York Times® Best Seller. It's just not true. To be a good translator, it is absolutely imperative that said person be a good writer. If you can't eloquently convey thoughts on paper (or via your keyboard nowadays), you do not have what it takes to render a high-quality translation. Not a member of the grammar police? You need to be commissioner of the grammar police as a translator. If Suzanne sometimes confuses 'they're, there, and their', chances are likely that she will make a mistake that embarrasses your company in the translation you had her do for free.

Let's say Suzanne isn't commissioner of the grammar police, but she's at least a card-carrying captain. That's great, but is Suzanne an expert in French grammar rules too? Does Suzanne know that the French use more noun clauses than we do in English? Does Suzanne know how to maintain language register between the two languages? Does Suzanne know that the French like to start out sentences or paragraphs with an explanation and end with the main point (or topic sentence), whereas in English we often make our main point immediately, then spend the rest of the sentence or paragraph explaining1? Not knowing all of these mechanical and cultural differences could make your translation sound like an awkward and stilted....well, translation.

The goal when translating a [insert any number of things your company could need translated] is to take the message from the original, then shape, mold and craft that same message into another language in the most appropriate way possible. A good translation should never sound like a translation. Professional translators have been educated on all of the above-mentioned topics. We learned about modulations, transpositions and equivalents. We studied and practiced how to translate for years before getting paid to do it. We can spot a grammatical error from a mile away (and we know that "spotting something from a mile away" is an Americanism that can't be translated word-for-word in French or other languages). 

The fact of the matter is that professional translation is worth the cost for any text that needs to be publication-quality. If your company had a legal issue, would you consult your employee John who took one criminal justice course in college, or would you consult a practicing lawyer who is a member of your region's bar association? I rest my case.


Siepmann, Dirk. "Academic Writing and Culture: An Overview of Differences between English, French and German" Erudit. 2006. Accessed December 11, 2015.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Client Glossaries: One of the Most Important Aspects of Financial Translation

Every company has a unique culture - from their strategy and their operating model all the way to their language. As someone who worked in corporate America for many years prior to launching my own translation business, I experienced first-hand how particular companies can be about the words they use to describe their business and everyday operations. My former employer even invented their own incotermIt is important that translators (and especially financial translators) realize that customers do indeed have a strong preference with regards to terminology to ensure that our customers are satisfied with our translations. Always follow client glossaries as closely as possible.

The tricky thing is that not all companies may be aware of their strong preference for some terms over others. That's why it is absolutely critical for translators to work with clients in advance to come up with a client glossary if the client does not already have one. It is impossible to provide a high-quality translation if we don't know what our clients want to begin with.

Are there really that many different ways to say the same thing in financial translation?
Oh yes, indeed!

Some companies prefer to say revenue, some go for revenues, some use the word turnover, others choose sales or sales revenue. Some companies record expenses in their general ledger, others recognize expenses, while others account for expenses. Similarly, a balance sheet, statement of financial position and statement of financial condition are all synonyms. Profit and Loss statements (or P&Ls) also have several synonyms, such as statement of profit and loss, income statement, statement of financial results, statement of operations, and income and expense statement, and chances are highly likely that your client prefers one of those terms over the other in all of the above cases. This is also the case for the industry-specific terms that customers use to describe their business.

I realize that a lot of financial translators have their own preferred terminology - I know I do - but ultimately, we need to set our preferences aside if they do not align with those of our clients. 

So, you have a client that does not have their own glossary. What do you do?

  1. First, propose your own glossary that contains all the terms you like best, and ask the client to review it.
  2. Offer to work with them to create their own customized glossary if they want to make extensive changes to the glossary you proposed, or if they want you to create a completely new one based off of their old reports or website (at an additional cost, of course). You can either do this manually by looking through old reports, or you could try a terminology management tool with a term extractor (I highly recommend buying Jost Zetzsche's The Translator's Tool Box: A Computer Primer for Translators to help you decide which tool would work best for you).
  3. Follow the glossary! Most, if not all, translation software programs enable users to upload glossaries or have built-in terminology management tools that will help you ensure that you follow their terminology preferences to the letter. They also help ensure that your translation remains consistent throughout those long, 500+ page reports.

Financial translation is considered a highly-specialized niche for a reason. Ensuring that you accurately translate not just your customer's reports, but also their corporate culture and voice, will keep them coming back to you year after year.