I am getting more and more calls to help customers with the quality of their translations. I think that we are at a tipping point. Companies have been translating more content into more languages year over year for at least the past decade. And now, they have a ton of multilingual content that, in reality, isn’t all that good.

How to Kill a Translation

How do they know? Well, to start with, customers tell them. That’s embarrassing. You really don’t want your customers in France to tell you that your French translation is completely wrong. Second, their customer service departments tell them. Poorly translated content can lead to an increase in customer service calls. Finally, they are listening. I don’t know about you, but when I am unhappy with a company, I will often tweet about the experience. Twitter, other social sharing, ad-hoc user communities – these are all places to find out how happy or unhappy your customers are. And if content is a mess, believe me, you’ll hear about it.

Sometimes, customers come to me and say, “Gosh, we think our translations are a mess. But we are not sure. Can you help us?” Of course we can help you. Here are some of the services I recommend if you either know your translations are problematic or you suspect that it is.

  • Have a sampling of your content analyzed in each language.
    • Be sure that the translators doing the analysis are completely different than the companies/people who did the original translation.
    • Don’t tell the new translators who did the original translation. We don’t want the analysis to be biased.
    • Use an industry-approved tool so that you can make direct comparisons. My favorite is DQF from Taus.
  • Do a deeper analysis for languages that are particularly problematic.
  • Carefully examine your translation workflow. Sometimes, we find that the problem isn’t the translators, it’s the process and workflow.
  • Analyze your source content. Look for these things:
    • Long sentences
    • Incorrect grammar
    • Idioms and jargon

Nothing can kill a good translation like long sentences, incorrect grammar, and idioms. The better the source, the better the translation. And…you know…the most effective way to improve your source content at scale is to use content optimization software such as Acrolinx or Congree. (Contact me if you’d like to learn more either of these platforms — we provide a full range of professional and training services for both Acrolinx and Congree.)

I’m excited to see that people are finally waking up to the importance of *all* of their content, not just the flashy English pieces. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And as we continue to create and translate more content, the problem will only continue to grow if not addressed.

If you want help with analyzing your content in all languages, finding the cause of the problems, and creating a comprehensive strategy for preventing content problems in the future, give me a call. I’d be happy to help.

Val Swisher
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