Read what I have to say about specialisation in an interview with fellow translator Megan Onions.
Click here for more interviews with translators about specialisation.
A weblog about translation and language
I see more and more articles, workshops and webinars on how to translate websites. What strikes me is that most of these only focus on the technical part of translating a website: how to edit HTML files, how to make sure the website will be found by search engines, etcetera. Although these are obviously very important aspects of translating a website, I miss one other essential aspect: creative writing. It is all very well to get your website ranked number one in Google, but if the website itself puts off visitors because it is badly written, the whole website becomes pointless. It is important to keep in mind that, in the end, websites are written/translated for human visitors, not just for search engines.
A business website serves as an online business card. It is all about first impressions. And first impressions on the web last only a couple of seconds: if you don’t manage to engage the visitor within these few seconds, he or she will move on. Text is an important part of this first impression: website content shouldn’t be just grammatically correct without any spelling mistakes, it should also be well-written and engaging. It should draw visitors in, encourage them to continue reading. Here are a couple of tips to achieve this.
Headings should be catchy
Make sure headings stand out and arouse the reader’s interest. This means that a literal translation of the heading in the source text may not work, especially not if the resulting translation is too long or misses out on puns or a play of words in the original heading. In many cases, headings should really be treated as taglines and should be transcreated rather than translated.
Don’t make texts too long
People who are looking for information on the internet don’t want to have to go through pages of text. They want to be able to quickly decide whether the website they’ve found contains the information they are looking for. As a translator you don’t usually have much influence on the total length of the text, but you can at least try to make your translation easy to read or scan and keep it as concise as possible.
Choose the right style and use it consistently
The source text will already give you an indication of how formal or informal your translation should be, but since every language has its own style, it is best to discuss with the end client which style works best for their target audience. Some languages, such as Spanish, French, German and Dutch, have a formal and an informal form of “you”. Again, discuss with the client which one they prefer. However, just because the client prefers the formal version, that doesn’t automatically mean the style of the text has to be formal too. In Dutch, for example, it’s perfectly fine to use the formal “you”, but still keep the text relatively informal and playful. Also, make sure you use the same style consistently throughout the whole website.
Create different websites for different language variations
Many languages are spoken in more than one country and each country may have its own version of the language. Depending on how different the variations of the language are, it may not be a good idea to create just one website for all countries. For example the Dutch language used in the Netherlands and Belgium is officialy the same language, but in practice they are very different. Some words or phrases used by the Dutch sound awkward to Belgian readers and vice versa. So it’s much better to have separate language versions for Belgium and the Netherlands.
Be aware of cultural references
Website texts may contain references which only make sense to readers of the source text, for example, a reference to a local holiday or tradition. Always check whether this reference makes sense to readers of the translation as well and if not, find a solution: replace it with a local reference, come up with a completely different solution or maybe just leave it out.
Write for human beings, not for search engines
There are plenty of SEO experts around who can give you excellent advice on how to get your website ranked high on Google. However, these experts sometimes tend to focus on SEO too much and forget that the text is ultimately read by human beings. They will, for example, advise you to use specific keywords as much as possible in your text, but who wants to read a text which keeps repeating the same word or product name over and over again? The best solution is to compromise: try and use the keywords you are given as much as possible while still keeping the text readable.
Write appealing texts
This is especially important for websites which sell a product or service. You want to advertise this product or service, so make sure your text is appealing and easy to read. You are trying to convince people to buy this product or service, so tell them why they should pull out their wallet, in their language. Just because it is written text, it doesn’t have to read like an academic paper.
The power of simple words by Terin Izil (lesson) and Sunni Brown (animation), TED-Ed Lesson.
I find that a lot of people only use CAT tools for repetitive texts. And that is of course what they were originally developed for. Modern CAT tools, however, have so many other useful features that it’s worth considering using them for non-repetitive texts as well.
Here are some of the reasons why I use my CAT tool for most of my texts, even creative texts:
These are the reasons I use my CAT tool for pretty much every translation I do. One downside, especially for more creative texts, is that, by default, a CAT tool splits up your text in segments based on sentences. Most CAT tools, however, allow you to define different ways of segmentation and I have found that paragraph segmentation, rather than sentence segmentation, works better for creative texts. Paragraph segmentation will lead to fewer match results, so it is not recommended for repetitive texts, but since creative texts are typically less repetitious anyway, matches aren’t really an issue.
The blurb on the back cover of Through the Language Glass: Why The World Looks Different In Other Languages by Guy Deutscher reads:
On an odyssey that takes us from Homer to Darwin, from scientists to savages, and from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water (a ‘she’) becomes a ‘he’ once you have dipped a tea bag into her, ‘Through the Language Glass’ explores some of the most intriguing and controversial questions about language, culture and the human mind.
That immediately got me interested, so I bought the book. It’s a great read and it contains a lot of interesting information on how language influences the way we look at things. Or maybe not. Find out for yourself!
In our efforts to keep up with a language that is not our own, we sometimes forget to take care of our native language, something which is particularly important if you no longer live in your native country. Depending on your native language and the country you have moved to, you may have to go the extra mile to keep up with your native language.
It is probably easier for people whose native language is English or another major language, because they will always find ways to listen to their language, but it is much more difficult if your native language is rarely spoken outside of your native country. I can imagine, for example, that it is fairly easy for a native speaker of English to keep up their native language in my country, the Netherlands, because we have plenty of access to TV and radio channels, newspapers and magazines, journals and books in English. If, however, I would decide to move to the UK or the US, it would be a lot harder for me to find sources in Dutch.
Also, it may be less of a problem if you mainly translate highly technical texts with their own language and terminology, which you can keep up with by reading specialized journals. But being up-to-date with your native language is essential if you translate more creative texts.
There are several problems which can arise if you don’t keep up your native language. For one, language changes all the time: new words are created, other words are no longer used. Spelling sometimes changes. And then there’s the problem of the target language interfering with the native language. When people have lived in another country for a while and don’t get the chance to hear their own native language on a regular basis, their second language tends to interfere with their native language. The result: translations that are too literal and read like translations, rather than a text written by a native speaker.
How to keep up with your native language
Here are a couple of tips to help you keep up with your native language:
All these tips can, of course, also be used to keep up with your source language!
A lot of people don’t seem to know the difference between a translator and an interpreter. In fact, many people don’t even know there is a difference and think the terms are synonymous. They’re not.
Dictionaries don’t seem to be very helpful either when it comes to explaining the difference. Here’s what the Oxford Dictionary of English has to say about it:
interpreter: a person who interprets, especially one who translates speech orally.
translator: a person who translates from one language into another, especially as a profession.
The Oxford Thesaurus of English only adds to the confusion by listing “interpreter” and “translator” as synonyms.
The Dutch Dikke Van Dale says:
tolk iem. die t.b.v. personen die elkaar niet verstaan het gesprokene mondeling of in gebarentaal overbrengt van de ene taal in de andere
vertaler iem. die vertaalt
The media are struggling with it too. On 22 August, the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant wrote in an article titled “Proces Joran stagneert door ontbreken tolk” (correct) that a legal process was hampered because there was no “officiële vertaler” (incorrect) available. And the book The Translator is really about an interpreter. The title of the Dutch translation (De tolk) is correct by the way, undoubtedly because it was translated by a translator who does know the difference between an interpreter and a translator.
Confused? It’s quite simple actually:
An interpreter (Dutch: tolk) deals with oral speech, whereas a translator (Dutch: vertaler) deals with written text. Some language service providers offer both services, others only offer either interpreting or translation services.
So if you are looking for a language service provider, make sure you look for the right person: if you need someone to interpret the discussions during your meeting, look for an interpreter; if you need someone to translate the minutes of the meeting, look for a translator.
Some clients may ask you to “transcreate” (or “adapt”) a text rather than simply translating it. But what is transcreation?
Transcreation basically means recreating a text for the target audience, in other words “translating” and “recreating” the text. Hence the term “transcreation”. Transcreation is used to make sure that the target text is the same as the source text in every aspect: the message it conveys, style, the images and emotions it evokes and its cultural background. You could say that transcreation is to translation what copywriting is to writing.
One could argue that any translation job is a transcreation job, since a good translation should always try to reflect all these aspects of the source text. This is of course true. But some types of texts require a higher level of transcreation than others. A technical text, for example, will usually not contain many emotions and cultural references and its linguistic style will usually not be very challenging. However, marketing and advertising copy, which is the type of copy to which the term transcreation is usually applied, does contain all these different aspects, making it difficult to create a direct translation. Translating these texts therefore requires a lot of creativity.
In addition to creativity, a transcreator should also have an excellent knowledge of both the source language and the target language, a thorough knowledge of cultural backgrounds and be familiar with the product being advertised and be able to write about it enthusiastically. In addition, it certainly helps if the transcreator can handle stress and is flexible, since the advertising world is a fast-paced world and deadlines and source texts tend to change frequently.
Types of texts
Types of texts offered for transcreation vary from websites, brochures and TV and radio commercials aimed at end clients, to posters and flyers for resellers. They could be about any consumer product: digital cameras, airlines, food and drink, clothing and shoes, and financial products. Transcreators are often required to deliver two or three alternative translations, especially for taglines, and a back translation, to help the end client, who typically does not understand the target language, get an idea of what the translated text sounds like. Transcreators are also expected to provide cultural advice: they should tell the end client when a specific translation or image does not work for the target audience.
What makes transcreation difficult?
In addition to the difficulties posed by creating a target text containing all the aspects of the source text (message, style, images and emotions, cultural background), marketing and advertising copy often poses other difficulties for the transcreator as well. Taglines, for example, often contain puns or references to imagery used by the company. They tend to be incorporated in a logo or image, with limited space and a fixed layout for the text. In addition, they are often used for multiple target groups: not just consumers, but also resellers and stakeholders, which means the text should appeal to all of them.
Want to know more?
Check out my upcoming transcreation workshops.
Rates are always a hot issue among translators, especially low rates offered by clients. Some translators are tempted to accept these low rates or to lower their rates just to get work. However, there is no excuse to accept low rates.
“If my rates are too high, I won’t be able to find any clients”
If you raise your rates, there will always be clients who will find them too high and who won’t hire you. But do you really want to work for clients who underpay you for a job that requires specialised skills? There are plenty of clients out there who know what it takes to create a professional translation and who are prepared to pay a decent rate for quality. There are even clients who will not work with translators offering low rates, because they don’t trust “cheap translations”. If you offer quality translations, you will be able to find quality clients who are willing to pay for what you have to offer. It will take time and effort, but that’s all part of running a business.
“I only see job offers on the internet offering low rates”
There always have been, and always will be, clients who are only interested in making a quick profit and they won’t go away, not as long as there are translators who are prepared to work for these low rates. If you are serious about your business and you are able to offer quality translations, you don’t want to work with these clients. And you don’t have to, because there are plenty of serious clients out there who are willing to pay for quality. It just takes more effort to find them, or have them find you. Make sure you market yourself professionally, provide samples of your work and be active on the internet and/or in networks so clients can actually find you. You are in charge of your business, so you set your rates.
“I’ve only just started and am not very experienced yet”
Obviously, more experienced translators can ask higher rates than less experienced translators. Be careful, however, not to charge rates that are too low when you are just starting, because it will be very difficult to raise those rates to a decent level once you have gained some experience. If you start too low, you will most probably lose most of your current clients and you will have to find new clients, which means you will basically have to start all over again.
“A client asked me to lower my rate in exchange for a high volume of work”
Whether you are working on a 1500-word job or a 15,000-word job, the average number of words you translate per hour will remain roughly the same. So why should you be paid less for a big job? In addition, taking on a big job also means you will have to turn down other jobs and may lose (potential) clients. So why should you settle for less during the whole time you are working on this big job?
“I don’t need to earn that much, my partner earns enough to pay the bills”
Good for you, but that doesn’t mean that your work is worth less. Besides, there are plenty of translators who do have to earn a living translating. By underselling yourself and your work, you are damaging the profession’s reputation and you are ruining the market for others.
Dutch linguist Nicoline van der Sijs has written a book about the influences of the Dutch language on North American languages. The book will be published in September, both in Dutch (Yankees, cookies en dollars: De invloed van het Nederlands op de Noord-Amerikaanse talen) and in English (Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages).
From Santa Claus (after the Dutch folklore saint Sinterklaas) and his sleigh (the pronunciation of the Dutch slee is almost identical) to a dumbhead talking poppycock, the contributions of the Dutch language to American English are indelibly embedded to some of our most vernacular terms and expressions.