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Translation Tips for Direct Marketers

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning bug and lightning bolt.” Mark Twain – US humorist, novelist, short story author, & wit (1835 – 1910)

Although you might not think of Mark Twain as a polyglot or linguist, supposedly he spoke French and German. If he owned a translation company today I am sure it would have a reputation for providing quality translation services, and would have a distinguished client list among direct marketing and interactive agencies. His quote about “the right word versus the almost right word” shows great insight into the primary challenge with translation, whether he intended to or not.

Let’s honor Twain with a list of translation tips for those seeking to use the “right word”, and not “the almost right word”.

Translation Tips

  • It takes more than just translation – Copywriting + Translation = Transcreation
  • Do not only translate but also “localize” (adapt) for international audiences
  • Review content for, and learn about the cultural differences of your audience
  • Translations should contain no grammar, typing or spelling mistakes
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread
  • Don’t forget to include keywords in your copy (SEO). You need to be found to be read
  • Develop a glossary of key terms before you start transcreating to ensure accuracy and consistency
  • Decide how you will handle brand names in all global markets
  • BEFORE launching a campaign, use trusted content reviewers in the target country to check translations
  • When developing your headline, slogan or tagline, remember that alliteration, puns, double entendre and humor should be avoided as they may not work in the target languages
  • Review the images/graphics for cultural appropriateness. Some images may be offensive in certain markets
  • Avoid complex sentence structure and vocabulary as this may not translate well or be received well
  • Make sure that metric or currency conversions are consistent and correct
  • Colors have different meanings in different countries (e.g. white means holy in the US and mourning in China)
  • Check that terminology and style are consistent and appropriate throughout the translated documentation
  • Standard/Recurring phrases (e.g. Warning, Click on,) should be consistently translated throughout a document
  • Ensure that capitalization and punctuation, particularly in numbered and bulleted lists, are applied consistently
  • Check that all special characters, such as registered trademark ® and copyright © symbols, display and print properly
  • Quotation marks are formatted according to the target language standards (for example “” or «»)
  • Phone numbers and office addresses are correct for the target audience
  • Date/Time format and use of different calendars are appropriate for the target audience
  • Leave plenty of white space. Non-English languages can, on average, take up 30% more space than English
  • Use standard fonts that can handle all the characters of your possible target languages
  • Bidirectional languages like Arabic and Hebrew need special layout consideration: they should be oriented in a right-to-left direction, including text, graphics, logos, special marks, etc.