Why 2 stage translation is essential for multi-lingual marketing

In a business context, proper translation is no more a luxury than blankets are on your bed when the weather is cold. Yet in our international marketplace, you still see terrible … often laughable … translations of business elements like website text and social media posts that just don’t make sense.

Why 2 stage translation is essential for multi-lingual marketing

No matter how brilliant a bi-lingual or tri-lingual translator might be at keeping up with trends in their languages, something’s got to give.

Let’s face it: although English is probably the most widely-used business language in the world at the moment, those who speak it as a second or third language often do not use it as correctly as a native English speaker will. That may be good enough in conversations. But in text, and in scripts for audio and video, good enough is just not  good enough.

And needless to say the same applies to any translation from an inbound language (translated from) to an outbound language (translated into).

What about regular translation services?

For businesses to rely on regular translation services, no matter how technically literate those are, usually isn’t enough for the ensuing text to be anything other than weak – at best – if it’s to be used for marketing, or even basic business promotion.

Despite some translation services stating that their translators are specialised bi-lingual business writers or copywriters, my own experience of this is that very few writers are as familiar with language #2 or #3, as they are with their language #1. And that’s not a criticism; it’s just plain common sense.

No matter how brilliant a bi-lingual or tri-lingual translator might be at keeping up with trends in their languages, something’s got to give. And usually it’s their grasp of idiomatic phrasing in language #2 or #3. Conventional translators are wizards and I take my hat off to them, but they’re not super heroes.

Services like Google Translate?

These digital translation services are OK for a rough guide, especially if you have even a slight knowledge of the outbound language as the services tend to pick up the right keywords and nouns, although their prepositions are sometimes wrong.

And in some cases with simple text, they do a really good job. But if you are translating from your native language (inbound) into an outbound language you don’t understand, how can you be sure that the machines are getting it right? I expect in time those machines will, but it will be a while yet.

Ah – surely transcreation is the answer?

Firstly, for those who haven’t heard of transcreation, here is a good definition by one of its better known practitioners, Percy Balemans:

“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.”

So far, so good. But people who try to provide a dual-purpose service with parts so culturally different as translation (academic, scholarly) and copywriting (slick, street-smart throat-grabbing) are, IMHO, expecting miracles.

Why 2 stage translation is essential for multi-lingual marketing

Remember the washer-dryer story: which option gives the better result?

It’s a bit like the way (well, in my experience anyway) you get a much better, faster and efficient result when you use separate washers and dryers to do your laundry. Those combination machines take hours and don’t dry your clothes properly.

And with the best will in the world, Percy Balemans’ advice on how to “transcreate” advertising copy reminds me quite a lot of that combination washer-dryer:

“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.”

Transcreation: oil and water just don’t mix

Percy’s advice seems quite plausible to begin with. But those of us who write for marketing in today’s business environment know that to “make sure your text is appealing and easy to read” is just a start: it needs to do a lot more than that. These days it really is not about convincing “people to buy this product or service” – it’s about establishing credibility, trust, relationships, brand loyalty and much more.

“Just because it is written text, it doesn’t have to read like an academic paper.” Oh, Percy: that’s the understatement of the century. Marketing text is as far away from academic papers as, well, washing is from drying.

I don’t think it’s enough for a transcreator simply to be conversant with idiomatic language … figurative stuff … the latest buzz words and even jargon in the outbound language.

Yes, there may be the occasional hybrid of translator-copywriter who is startlingly good at both. If such a person exists I hope they’re charging stratospheric fees, because there can’t be more than one or two of them who genuinely are brilliant at both.

2-stage translation: why it is the most powerful option

Remember the washer-dryer story: which option gives the better result? Although there may occasionally be a hybrid like I mentioned above, in most cultures the best translation of your marketing text by a transcreator is likely to be “appealing and easy to read.”

Far better, in my view, to take the translation of your text in its raw form, and then use that as a brief for a native-speaking professional business writer to create not just text “to convince people to buy this product or service,” but text that will be every bit as powerful as if it have been written professionally in the outbound language, in the first place.

And I’m not touting for business, by the way. There are good professional marketing and advertising writers in most cities and towns in the developed world – just Google them.

So my magic formula is, buy the best translation service you can, then buy the best second stage adaptation you can. Other options might be cheaper, but…

Which do you prefer to invest in?

Remember that washer-dryer.

And please share your views…

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