Why You Need an Experienced Linguist to Translate Your Work

You have spent countless hours, days, months, maybe even years working on something important. Whether it is a product, book, article, patent, or marketing campaign, you do not want to skimp on the translation. In fact, you want the best possible translator/editor on your team. Why? Because you do not want to undermine your credibility with an unprofessional-looking text. You do not want to be misunderstood. You want your work to sound as clear, articulate, and compelling as possible.

WHY A PROFESSIONAL TRANSLATOR?

Professional translators are more than service providers: they are, in fact, your partners. They are there to unpick the source message, capture its meaning, and replicate it as accurately as possible in another language to achieve the intended communicative aim as effectively as possible. A good translator is more than just a language expert: (s)he is a communication expert.

The right translator is proficient, well-read, culturally aware, informed, meticulous, and versatile. Not only should your chosen translator be conversant with the relevant terminology and able to use advanced CAT tools for consistency and quality assurance, but they should also be well-versed in the subtleties of discourse analysis. This might come as a surprise, but all communication happens in context and, as such, familiarity with both the linguistic and the socio-cultural environment of your intended audience is crucial.

All translation entails some form of source textual and contextual analysis, semantic interpretation, and transfer into the target language (or target text generation).

All good translators perform discourse analysis to varying degrees. They analyze the basic linguistic features of the text (lexical choices, syntax and paradigm, spelling, punctuation, tenses and modalities, grammatical and lexical cohesion) but also additional devices such as tone, voice, style, tropes etc. What’s more, good translators (and in particular transcreators) will factor in the situational, cultural, political, and socio-economic context. Understanding the topic is at the top of the list. But they also ask themselves questions such as: Who produced the text and for whom? Who consumes the text and in what setting? What are the opportunities and limitations of the chosen medium or channel of communication? What’s the format? What is the communicative purpose of the text? Is there potential for misunderstandings? How does this audience typically engage with these types of texts?

GENRE

Different types of texts (genres) address different audiences in different settings and follow different conventions of form, which your translator should be familiar with. According to Longacre (1976, 1983), most texts belong to one of the following types:

  • narrative
  • expository
  • hortatory
  • procedural.

According to Martin (1985) and the Sydney school, academic texts typically belong to the factual genre. But scientific discussions or data reports don’t have to be dry. Depending on what you are hoping to achieve, they can also be turned into storytelling, which usually increases its appeal and lowers the reader’s resistance to facts. The narrative genre requires a selection and careful ordering of events, a vividness that is both entertaining and informative, and a text structure that usually leads to a climax (complication-resolution). Agent orientation, temporal succession, projection and suspense are all part of the mix.

According to van Dijk (1977), scientific discourse follows the structure: introduction – problem – solution – conclusion.  But texts can also be used to persuade and influence policy or behavior. And marketing texts usually are. In this case, the typical text structure is: problem – agitation – solution, or situation – problem – solution – benefits.  The AIDA structure uses cognitive and emotional appeals to turn your attention into interest, desire, and, ultimately, action. It attempts to build affinity and attraction to eventually elicit a certain attitude. A direct, word-for-word rendering or a simple syntactical (or rule-based) transfer will not do the trick. Some texts need to be rephrased or entirely rewritten to match the cultural context of your target audience, their collective myths and typical ways of interpreting the world, or to be in line with local legislation. What formats does your target audience prefer and how do they tend to process information? Do they appreciate sophisticated and long-winded rhetoric, lots of technical detail, or funny plot twists? Is hyperbole acceptable or will it be taken literally?

Understanding the conventions and regularities of genre can help you perfect them or subvert them for increased impact!

REGISTER

Texts also differ in terms of register. Registers refer to varying degrees of formality, as well as different vocabulary and syntax based on communicative purpose, status, and social context. A register is intimately related to the subject matter and the relationship between the writer and the reader. You texts can use an open register (lots of variation possible, comprehensible for the layperson) or a closed one. Closed registers (typical of academic and scientific texts or certain areas of the corporate world) are made up of highly specialized and technical vocabulary – and your translator needs to master it. Ideally, the target text should replicate your tone, carry the same implications, and do justice to your original communicative purpose. Get the register wrong, and you can fail to reach your target audience or your goals.

EFFECTIVE FOREIGN-LANGUAGE COMMUNICATION

Every text you publish is a dialogue between you and your readers. For them to interpret your message properly and respond positively, you need to engage a communication professional with an eye for detail and an ability to handle all of these aspects competently.

If you are in the market for competent #translations of your PR, business, legal or marketing texts, of your feature articles, academic papers, or technical documentation, if you need #subtitles or #interpreting, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to help or refer you to a colleague in your language combination.

P.S. Oh, and by the way: do you know the difference between voice, tone, and style? More about this in a future post. Stay tuned!