Using multilingual employees to translate

I recently listened to a live broadcast titled Coping with Translation which essentially was a panel of industry specialists discussing the need for “instantaneous” translation in today’s fast moving media world.  During the event the subject matter of using multilingual employees was raised and a few guidelines were mentioned as to when, and more importantly, when not to use them.

For me the best answer came from Renato Beninatto and I tweeted as much after he said it.

“If you need to control your message then use a professional translation service great answer.”

It is this statement which I’m picking up on today because it encompasses a great way to begin to understand the impact translated material can have on your business.

At some point in the life cycle of a business somebody comes along and suggests that to expand any further we should look at overseas markets.  I’ve blogged about how to evaluate where your efforts should be focussed before, but this is the next step.

Sometimes having an employee who speaks a particular language becomes a clouding decision making factor in that process but nonetheless it will certainly help when it comes to being able to decipher some of the email communication later down the line.  However using them to build a web presence is not really going to add any value to your marketing strategy.  In most cases quite the contrary! Using these employees to sanity check professionally translated content might also seem like a great idea, however unless they are professionally trained in the art of linguistics they will most likely only be able to offer an opinion from a stylistic position.  Even then, if they’ve not been in the country for some time, they may well not be familiar with some of the more “en-vogue” colloquialisms running through the language at the time.

To give this last argument a little more weight just think about some of the websites you have visited recently.  How many of them do you feel are showing signs of age and how old do you think they are?  Despite dynamic content and a full blown CMS (content management systems) the look and feel of a website, including the vocabulary, becomes dated quite quickly.  I read recently that to stay in tune with your target audience your website needs updating at least every 3 to 6 months, it should be refreshed every 12 to 18 months and given a full makeover every 3 to 5 years.  It is also worth bearing in mind that none of this activity includes the constant updating of your FAQs, blog and social media content.

So if a bi-lingual employee reviews your freshly translated web content for a country they’ve not been living in for a few years, their perception of what is fresh and cutting edge will most likely be at odds with a native linguist from that country who is resident there.  If you then accept the critique of this employee and request the changes based on this critique, you could inadvertently be sending out a dated message on the first day of your launch.  Not a great start I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now you may feel that all this is a little bit extreme but what I’m trying to do is highlight the point Renato was making.  You wouldn’t be engaging with a professional translation agency if you could read and write the content yourself, and you don’t know the language well enough to be certain that what your employee is telling you is correct.  With a professional agency you have far greater security that your message is going to be correct for the target market.  If the LSP you engage with asks the right questions in advance of any work being started, you can also be assured that what you will receive in return will yield a much better ROI in a much shorter time-frame.  This will then free up your bi-lingual employee to continue doing the job which they were originally employed to do.

Some might call this the classic WIN-WIN