Getting it right

In an article I read in the Australian online news outlet “The Age” there is a story about a radio presenter experiencing an awkward situation when referring to the person they were interviewing as “She”. Now on face value a simple assumption to make, as the physical gender of that person was female. However as the interview was about lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in media and film, it would have been much more appropriate to have established how this person would prefer to have been addressed in advance of the interview.

Making assumptions is a dangerous game and very much so in the world of translation. In this instance,  as Rory is quoted as saying, “Most of the time people feel a bit embarrassed, all that’s needed is a quick apology, it doesn’t have to be a huge deal. The less of a big deal the better.” but it highlights very clearly how things can get out of hand. Had Rory not been as understanding it could quite easily have escalated into something much more problematic.

One of the questions I’m asked all the time is “why pay for something you can get for free?” referring of course to Bing and Google translate (amongst others). Whilst I do firmly believe that there is both a place and a market for this kind of technology, it truly does not belong in your shop window.  By this I mean any customer facing material such as websites, product brochures, software UIs, FAQs (you get the picture)

There are so many anecdotal examples of where translation has gone catastrophically wrong, and I won’t bore you with another list of them here, but even these cannot all be put down to machine translation. In fact a fair proportion are as a result of human misunderstanding, and yes here it is, MAKING ASSUMPTIONS.

In my industry there is no such thing as too many questions, so long as the questions:
a) have not been asked more than once before
b) are relevant to the situation
c) require an answer to move on to the next stage

So here’s my pearl of wisdom for today, if you are looking at talking to an overseas market, one which does not speak your language as their mother tongue, or has different beliefs or culture; then get in touch with a professional translation agency. Be very mindful about what questions they ask you too. You’ll probably be surprised how many just ask you to send the source file without first having a proper discovery call with you. Once you do find the right one for you, invest the time upfront answering their questions, bring in your own ideas and work together as they should ideally feel as if they are part of your team. And if your end client has a similar story to the article at the beginning of this blog, imagine what the implications would be in a language where gender specific articles have a profound impact in the resulting translation.