Marking International Translation Day 2015, we explore key factors to consider when dealing with or preparing translated material and how your message is received overseas.

Whether your organisation has physical presence overseas, you do business with customers who do not share your first language or looking to expand into new markets an informed understanding of translation is a critical building block for trade.

Promoting a global brand
Instantly recognisable and evocative of company ethos, a strong brand is an organisation’s most valuable asset. But how does your native brand help you to breakthrough in new markets? Are changes required for global appeal?

“it’s important for every global organisation to have an understanding of what it stands for and what it seeks to become”

While there’s no clear cut rule, it’s important for every global organisation to have an understanding of what it stands for and what it seeks to become.

There are times when a personal, localised approach is required – especially when origin has limited impact on consumers. While brands as diverse as Burger King or Louis Vuitton opt for a phonetic translation – maintaining a definite nod towards heritage while enabling indigenous access – sometimes a complete change is required, something Coca Cola discovered in China.

With the closest phonetic translation for the US drinks giant’s most popular offering – Ku-Kou-Kela – literally meaning ‘bite the wax tadpole’ changes were required. So, while the overall branding was maintained, it is now marketed to a Chinese audience ‘tasty fun’ – as Ko-Kou-Ko-Le.

A small change, informed by an understanding of company goals and target audience, is often a fundamental step.

Managing local dynamics
While an organisation may be able to dictate how a brand is presented, specific terms such as place names and cultural references can be harder to pin down.

It’s important to make a decision as to whether brand and product names should be translated and for this local response should be factored in. Working together with language experts it’s possible to agree a process which meets the requirements of the organisation and avoids offense.

“a clear strategy on terminology is an important promotional asset”

Though shifting political dynamics will always throw up difficulties – something US President Barak Obama discovered recently – consistency of approach is key. As with brand presentation, a clear strategy on terminology is an important promotional asset.

Safeguarding your terms of reference
There are often important reasons not to translate certain words or phrases, so it’s important to identify terms or references which are commonly used and test their in-market response.

Referring to a person as pochemuchka – a term unique to Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions – or expressing waldeinsamkeit – the German feeling of being alone in the woods – isn’t going to translate without extensive explanation. Such culturally unique words are best avoided when compiling communications, removing the danger of diluting or losing your original meaning.

“translation around specific terms needs to be handled carefully”

Crucially, translation around specific terms needs to be handled carefully. Particularly when working with industry standard terms such as those in manufacturing or healthcare, the implications of straying from accepted terminology can be sizable. While translation technology can automate the management of this, it’s important to identify the terms which are key to your organisation before embarking on translation, avoiding the danger of misunderstanding.

Not just translation but localisation
Effective localisation is more than translation. It’s important not to assume that a message or set of terms will be grasped as clearly overseas as at home. So before setting out:

  • Define your brand identity and message
  • Recognise the sensibilities of your target market
  • Identify key business and industry terms
  • Create and maintain clear translation guidelines

Proper translation planning with the guidance of an experienced language service provider and identification of when and when not to translate can make a very real difference in ensuring your goals translate globally.