Insight: Having translators speak in one single voice

Good consistency is one of the most important indicators of good translation quality, especially for a big project which involves multiple products, multiple documents, and multiple translation workers (even multiple vendors). Without proper consistency management, the translation work would become a disaster even all translators involved are qualified and subject experts.

How does inconsistency show up? Firstly, translation is not just conversion between words in different languages. Each term might have several equivalents in the target language. For example, “Internet” in English might be translated into “因特网”, “英特网”, “Internet”, “互联网” and other words in Chinese. Secondly, even for a single expression, different translators might have different translations due to their different styles. For example, “See Install Guide for details.” could have the following translations, which are all correct if we don’t consider the context:

  • 请参阅《安装指南》了解详细信息。
  • 有关详细信息,请参阅《安装指南》。
  • 详情见《安装指南》。

But if we see all of them in a single document, we’ll feel confused.

So how to keep the translations consistent, in other words, how to have all translators speak in one single voice?

First of all, we need a guide file. This guide file is generally called style guide, used to define the translation style, the formats, the punctuation, the measure units and other things used in the target language translation. And this file should be shared among all translation workers before the very beginning, so that all translation work can follow the same style.

Secondly, a glossary (or term list) is required. The glossary should be developed before and throughout the translation process. Translators can add a term into the glossary any time according to a specified procedure, so that all others can follow the term definition in later translation. By doing so, consistency at term level can be assured.

Thirdly, CAT tools with memory features shall be used by translators. Those tools can remember all the translated segments and provide proposals when a segment with more than 75% matched is met. Translators can also search concordance from the memory during translation to keep a same style and wording. Recently, some online CAT tools have been introduced. They can be used by multiple users parallelly so that the translators can achieve even more consistency.

Fourthly, we should use QA tools to check inconsistency. Some QA tools like Xbench do very well in this area. Of course, the most important thing is people-relevant. Trainings should be given to all translators on style guide, tools, glossary maintainence and QA process. Translators should learn the fact that most of times they are not speaking in their own ways during translation, but speaking in some way the client likes.

Case Study: How to get involved with an ongoing project shortly

One of our clients has decided to add us into their resource pool for an on-going account. They are concerned if we could get involved with the project shortly.

Our client has spent too much time on an existing vendor by having communications, offering trainings, giving feedbacks, etc. It seems to be a disaster to replace the vendor even low-quality is continuously delivered and there’s no sign to improve. Our client is concerned introducing a new vendor to this project might need the same efforts to get all things run smoothly.

There’s a big package for newincomers, which include:

  • General Style Guide for all products
  • Style Guide for specific products
  • Tooling information
  • Internet access accounts and passwords
  • Training materials on products and the localization project
  • Meeting minutes
  • Historical feedbacks
  • LQA reports
  • Translation memories
  • Glossaries
  • Query info
  • Tips and best practices

Ms. Robin Liu is one of our most experienced PM’s, who worked for IBM for years before her joining EN-SC. And now she was assigned the role of PM for this account.

Ms. Robin Liu, PM of EN-SC

She knew we had to learn all of the above information and incorporate it to our knowledge base (internalization) and roll out to our team allowing us to deliver qualified work (externalization).

But it didn’t seem to be a good idea to simply forward all of the materials to each team member, as they are too complex and confusing.

Robin sorted out all the documents into several categories as follows:

  • General guides
    • Style guides
    • Tooling information
  • Training materials
    • Training materials
    • Internet access credentials
    • Query Info
    • Tips & best practices
  • History documents
    • Feedbacks
    • Meeting minutes
    • LQA reports
  • References at runtime
    • Glossaries
    • Translation Memories

Next, she made an index file for all the materials in order to offer a clear structure of them.

And after that, she did more to facilitate usage of the materials. She highlighted the key parts of the style guides and training materilas which she think are obviously different from ones for other accounts, so that the team members don’t have to go through all the files.

She also read the history documents and made a summary, putting all important points together.

For glossaries and translation memories, she converted them to some formats easy to search and reference.

Now all the materials were in a good order.

So the next thing was to distribute all the information to our team members.

Robin had already built a team of translators, reviewers, and engineers. And she held the 1st kick-off meeting for the incoming account, showing the guides and training materials. Then she asked the team members to do a homework – to review the history documents and raise questions at the next meeting.

By this way, when the 2nd kick-off meeting started, all the team members had got an intuitive expression on the project.

To further familiarize the team members with the project, Robin ran some virtual translation drops with the help of historic documents. All the translators and reviewers were required to work on a hands-on drop, from translation, editting, proofreading through delivery. Then the trial drops were checked and validated against the guides and training materials.

Only one week later, when the team was requested to do a sample translation, they could deliver a qualified result to the client. And it astonished our client!

The longest city name translated to Chinese as two characters only

China has a history of more than 5,000 years. Such a long history is also one of the few in the world, and the medieval civilization has become more and more embarrassed under the washing of this time. With the rapid development of China over the years, it has gained a certain reputation in the world. Chinese culture has also been recognized by other countries in the world. Many foreign friends have seen the charm of China and have come to China for learning.

At present, Chinese has become the most populous language in the world. It is enough to see the charm of Chinese. I believe that it will take a long time for the lyrics to write “The world is talking about Chinese,” so how big is Chinese? What about the charm? There is an example to prove that the name of the capital of a country in the world is too long. It may be difficult to read it. The result is translated into two words by Chinese. You say it is not very powerful.

It may be no stranger to everyone in Thailand. This is a very popular tourist country. Every year, many tourists come to travel, especially Chinese, who like to go to Thailand. We all know that the capital of Thailand is Bangkok, but in Thai, the name of Bangkok is not so simple, it is 41 words, it is terrible, and it is called the longest place name in the world.

Speaking of this, I would like to talk about too much money for more than 400 years. At that time, Rama I established a new capital city. In order to commemorate his great achievements, he named it “Total Taiwan, Maha Kun, abandoning him, Wow Dichia, by him. Yamaha, Lupu, Ou, Spicy, Tanah, Lilong, Udon, Palatine, Maha, and Satan, not only do we feel trouble, but even Thai people feel that it is not easy to read, so it is simply referred to as “Total Taiwan”. Meaning is the sacred land.

Later, when the Chinese arrived in Thailand, they felt that the name was not good. They translated it in Chinese and changed it to “Bangkok”. But at that time, only the Chinese called it until English became popular in the world. People tried to translate the name of the capital of Thailand in English. The result was more than 170 words, which was too much trouble. Later, the Western countries replaced it with Bangkok. Later, the Thais gradually accepted the name “Bangkok” and have been using it until now.

Start with Chinese translation

Is your business looking for Chinese translation services? Be aware that the potential benefits are huge: Mandarin has about 955 million native speakers, making it the most commonly used language in the world; China is the fastest growing consumer market in the world and the second largest importer of goods; The Belt and Road Initiative will reshape global trade; Chinese translation can also help you reach the Chinese community closer to home. While the potential benefits are real, the potential difficulty is also true. To avoid accidents, please read our Starter Corporate Chinese Translation Service Guide.

1. First of all, we must find out more than one language in China.

Foreign customer consultation asked China only Mandarin? If you answer “yes” then you can only get partial satisfaction. Mandarin (commonly known as standard Chinese or Mandarin) is the official language of China, Taiwan and Singapore, but it is not the only language spoken by people in China. Today there are 299 living languages ​​in China. About 70% of Chinese speak Mandarin, and although the government wants to increase it to 80% by 2020, it is important to know your audience. Depending on what you are translating, the media you are using and the audience you are trying to reach, Mandarin may be sufficient. However, in some areas, such as Hong Kong, it is also important to respect local languages ​​such as Cantonese. Calling standard Chinese “Mandarin” itself is an oversimplification process. “Mandarin” also refers to a group of dialects used in northern and southwestern China. When speaking, these dialects are not completely interdependent.

2. Written Chinese – a common language?

Spoken Chinese is very different, but all Chinese use the same writing system. Therefore, even if the dialects they speak are incomprehensible to each other, the Chinese can read and understand the same text. In other words, you should pay attention to some changes in written Chinese. The first is the difference between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

3. Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

Chinese characters are complex, so since the 1950s and 1960s, the Chinese government has begun to promote the use of a simpler character that requires fewer strokes to write. So mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore now use Simplified Chinese, but currently Taiwanese and Macau and Hong Kong still use traditional Chinese characters. But there is a difference in vocabulary, grammar and tone between all these regions. So in addition to converting to the appropriate script, you may need to further localize your content to accommodate the use and preferences of local words. For example, in Hong Kong, advertisements are often written in vernacular Cantonese to attract local audiences. Just as English in the United Kingdom and the United States, some words have different meanings in different fields. For example, the term “computer” in mainland China is translated as “calculator” in Singapore.

4. Graphic design considerations for Chinese text

Chinese characters are more complicated than the letters in the Roman alphabet. Can your audience easily read your content? You may need more space, including vertical and horizontal spaces, to make your text look more engaging and professional.

5. Does your business need a Chinese name?

Written Chinese is a language script with thousands of texts that represent different contexts, which makes translating your company name into Chinese is a tricky business. You can choose to rely solely on the literal meaning of the pronunciation, but they cannot reveal what they really mean. This may have an adverse effect on your brand. For example, consider the unauthorized translation of the infamous Coca Cola. Fortunately, Coca-Cola’s professional translation team is able to come up with something better: Kekoukele, which sounds like Coca-Cola, means “delicious fun” or “make your mouth happy”. On the other hand, Best Buy ended Baisimi. This means “buying after 100 times of thinking”, which does not fully stimulate consumers’ desire to buy. In 2011, the company closed all nine Chinese stores.

6. Just translation may not be enough

For the Chinese market, even accurate verbatim translations are not enough. You must also consider different cultural elements, especially advertising and marketing communications. For example, color can bring different connotations to Western culture in Chinese culture. Views on the numbers of “lucky” and “unfortunate” may seem like the superstitions of Westerners, but they are so mainstream in Chinese culture that it is almost universal. Sometimes it may be necessary to change, redesign or convert content to take these differences into account.