After decades in the translation and localization industry, we have helped clients expand overseas by translating anything from human resource documents, OSHA translations, Amazon FBA translations, medical industry translations, HTML translations, the list goes on! But like every story, there has to be a beginning. For me, it was my own personal journey with learning a second language.
It started many years ago when I was studying Spanish for my eventual tour of duty in South America for the Peace Corps. Our cultural training had ended and it was time to get serious about improving language skills for those of us who were going to be volunteering in a country where English was not the official language. Although I had studied Spanish for two years in university, my real life experience speaking the language was nil. Other volunteers and I who were going to Latin America were sent individually to Puerto Rico for six weeks of intensive language training. I wound up in a small village called Coamo, located in the south central part of the island. I was the only volunteer sent to this location. Others were scattered about the island in small groups or if married, in pairs.
I had been working hard on perfecting my grammar, trying to piece together complicated sentences, so as to appear accomplished in Spanish. A favorite thing for me to do was go to a small restaurant from where I was staying at a small clinic and eat with some of the locals. One day at lunch, I was feeling quite confident in my ability to appear fluent, so I approached the owner, who also served as cook, waitress and cashier. She looked directly at me, as she usually did every afternoon and said “¿Qué quieres comer?” (What do you want to eat?). I puffed up my chest and said “Me gustaría pedir un tazón de sopa del día y por favor que le ponga un huevo.” (I would like to order a bowl of soup of the day and would you please put in an egg”) She leaned forward across the counter with her face inches from mine and with a sly smile said, “sopa con huevo”.
This might have been the most important Spanish lesson I ever learned. She replaced my 17 words with 3 very short ones. I was both humbled and grateful at the same time. These long, convoluted sentences might be appropriate for literature, but for everyday conversation, it’s better to keep it simple and to the point.
I find a lot of similar uses of language every day as clients contact us or send us documents for translation. It’s not our position to tell them how to write. However, if their verbiage distracts from the intended meaning of the document, we will point this out and suggest revisions to make the translation more reliable and effective.
Another key example of when keeping it simple is preferred deals with sentence length. A sentence in English is much shorter that its translated pair in Spanish or many other languages. If the amount of text gets too long, it creates formatting issues when our graphic design team needs to go back and replace the original text with the newly translated text. This holds true with video subtitles and voice overs as well.
How do you know if your document language will be too long for translation? The best way to find out is to contact TSI for an estimate, quote or just advice. We are more that happy to walk you through the steps of the process to determine if our services are right for your business.
In closing, my message to future and present corporate writers: “put some love into your work and remember to KISS.”
At TSI, many of our long term clients come from the advertising industry. For decades, we’ve worked closely with both third party as well as internal ad agencies and firms to ensure their campaign’s message isn’t lost in translation. From our experience, the most difficult part of translating for the advertising and marketing industry is transcreation.
We touched on the concept of transcreation in a previous article, but to recap, transcreation deals primarily with copy written for the advertising industry. It is used to create an understanding of the meaning of the message and not simply a translation of the individual words.
Let’s look at some common business slogans that word for word have little meaning in a foreign language, without being transcreated into a slogan that would reflect the meaning in that other language.
Heinz – “Beanz Meanz Heinz”
Due to the clever and unusual spelling, this works only in English. If one were to try and find a translation using any of the well-known online translation programs the answer would come back as “Beanz Meanz Heinz”. I asked different translators to ‘transcreate’ this slogan into Spanish and received the following results.
Frijoles favoritos Heinz --- Heinz beans are favorites
Cuándo quiera frijoles pida Heinz --- When you want beans ask for Heinz
Frijoles significan Heinz --- Beans mean Heinz
This last one is not quite as clever as the English, but you get the picture.
Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes – “They’re GR-R-R-reat”
This slogan is difficult to translate. It’s based on the fictitious character Tony the Tiger. Why Kellogg’s featured a tiger eating Frosted Flakes is anybody’s guess, but apparently it works. Frosted Flakes have been around for a long time and are still a popular breakfast cereal. I imagine it’s due to the crunchy feeling and the sugar rush associated with the sweetened cereal. The reason this is difficult to translate or to come close with transcreation is due to the GR-R-R-reat that emulates a tiger’s growl. I sent this to to different translators and received the following.
Un rugido de energía – A roar of energy
¡GR-R-R-andiosos! – GR-R-R-reat! (my favorite)
Ten un día salvaje - Have a wild day
Son lo MÁS de lo MÁS - They are the MOST of the MOST
Simplemente geniales - Simply great
Skittles – “Taste the Rainbow”
I really like this slogan, although I’ve never eaten a Skittle. The word sounds a little too much like spittle to pique my appetite. But apparently it has been successful throughout the years. After all, rainbows are beautiful and somewhat mysterious the way they appear during a rain shower. Here are the translations to this happy slogan.
Un arco iris de sabor – A rainbow of flavor
El gusto multicolor – The multicolored taste
Saborea el arcoíris - Taste the rainbow
Disfruta con el Arco Iris - Enjoy the Rainbow
Dejate llevar por el Arco Iris - Get carried away by the Rainbow
Despega con el Arco Iris - Take off with the Rainbow
It’s not often that we get requests for such popular slogans as the foregoing examples, but we do come close with companies wanting a special slant on their branding. When these requests come in, we choose translators who work in advertising or who are creative writing specialists. We want them to let their imaginations soar and create solutions that are unique and effective.
Using non-native speakers for translations that rely on transcreation is a risky bet. Much like idioms presenting difficult issues when crossing languages, transcreation has the same potential pitfalls. Our translators at TSI are native speakers and specialize in the industry for which they are translating.
Do you have a product or a campaign that is being expanded overseas? Do you want to freshen up previously translated advertising collateral? Reach out to us for a consultation or a quote. We are more than happy to get you the help you need: TSI - We're GR-R-R-owing your business internationally.
Of course most of us have heard and have even used the common expression “The customer is always right”. Well, it isn’t necessarily so, especially in the world of translations. This is a difficult and delicate subject to talk about, but it must be addressed in a professional manner.
To begin, let’s look at a typical translation project.
Several years ago we translated a 62-page operation and maintenance manual for a complex mechanical system into French for one of our long term clients. In the five prior years working for this client, we had never received a negative review of our work. However this time, they sent back the translation with several pages of changes, all dealing with terminology and style. I shared the revised document with our translator, a retired mechanical engineer who was born, raised, educated and employed for 35 years in France. His first indication was to laugh, because the changes, according to him, “were nothing short of childish”. Whoever performed the review had no background in mechanical terminology. In addition, the changes in style were strictly preferential, quite “flowery” and not suitable for a technical manual. I then sent the original translation and the revised version to another technical translator on our team. He made the same comments as the original translator. But there was a very important issue that both translators pointed out that could have caused major technical damage or personal harm if the revised version was to be used. In one section, the reader was instructed to turn a compressor valve 90 degrees counterclockwise to stop the flow of high-pressure gas through the system. The person who reviewed the original translation apparently did not know the difference between clockwise and counterclockwise and instead changed the meaning to “turn the valve to the right”. We are not in a position to speculate what would have happened if those instructions were followed, but I immediately called our client in France and pointed out the obvious mistake made by the proofreader. Of course, he was grateful and relieved to find out that we had found the mistake.
As I later discovered, the company had recently hired a new divisional supervisor who brought along his personal team, including his receptionist. He instructed her to proofread the manual and make changes as needed. She was told that a company in the USA did the translation and he wanted to make sure that the French was correct. After discussing the situation with my direct client, I found out that the receptionist was not fluent in English and hence unable to make a valid comparison of the two languages, but that she also had no experience in manufacturing and technical terminology.
Fortunately the head of the facility readily understood the situation and approved the translation that we originally submitted. We have since created a formal procedure for reviewing future translation projects.
We encourage all our clients, both new and old to establish an independent review process, especially when we are in the initial stages of developing a working relationship. This creates a solid business bond that is mutually beneficial. At TSI, we take a great deal of pride in bonds like this. Maintaining long term connections with our clients is tantamount to both their success as well as ours. We truly believe it’s a symbiotic relationship. Throughout every step of a job, we are here to answer questions to clients should there be any curiosity or confusion in our standard operating procedures; who thought an industry as mundane as translations could necessitate so much human interaction? It’s a good reminder of the power of the written word. If you are a previous client or a potential new client, you are always welcome to reach out for a consultation, quote or just to inquire more about our process, because remember, the customer is always right… right?
At TSI, we take pride in our years of experience translating documents for Amazon sellers. In today’s online sales market, its nearly impossible for vendors to do business without utilizing Amazon’s selling platform. Many brands who attempt to sell exclusively through their own website wind up seeing their products listed on Amazon eventually via third parties sold as used, or sometimes even counterfeited goods. Amazon offers brand protection services to help deal with counterfeiting and copyright infringement which helps to an extent, but there’s other lesser known programs they offer that help sellers: to expand their business internationally.
We are referring to Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), known to the consumer as Amazon Prime. By joining the Amazon FBA program as a seller, your items are shipped to consumers free of charge domestically. While the United States is by far Amazon’s largest marketplace, what about other territories? Depending on who is counting, there’s roughly 195 countries in the world. Amazon currently operates in almost two dozen markets throughout the world, so why limit yourself to just one?
One huge hurdle is language. Product pages have very tactically written copy that helps describe the item for sale, but still generate top notch search engine results. Keywords and descriptions are essential to having your product seen in searches before your competitors. Navigating this world in let’s say, Japan, would be nearly impossible as an English speaking seller. Where do you even start with translating your item description? And what about keywords? To rely on computer translation software such as google translate will leave your listing in the dust, and also give consumers the impression that you’re not a serious seller or even worse, a scammer yourself.
Because we have extensive experience at TSI working with Amazon FBA sellers, we can assist in solving these issues for you. This way, you can put your mind at ease as a seller and focus on the other important aspect of business like retaining your buy box, managing reviews, and analyzing your sales conversion rates.
While Amazon Global Selling (AGS) helps you expand to other territories, they do not offer their own translation services. This is why it’s essential that you choose wisely when using third party translation providers. However, third party providers open up a new can of worms.
It’s no secret that Amazon has been plagued by seller scams and buy box wars between mom and pop sellers based in America who are now battling Chinese factories that are undercutting prices to unrealistically low levels. A similar predicament exists in the translation and localization industry. Dozens of low cost translation companies have been popping up in China and India offering unbeatable rates. But as the old idiom goes, it’s too good to be true. The quality of these translations are subpar. They are able to hit such low costs per word by employing computer translations which, as we’ve covered in previous articles, are dangerously unreliable. Another tactic they implement is using non-native language speakers who have no proficiency in the niche area for the document needed to be translated. A comparison would be hiring an electrician to fix your plumbing: while they both work as handymen, their skill sets are completely different.
What sets TSI apart from other third party translation and localization providers is we never use computer translations. Additionally, we employ translators who are native in the output language and have a deep understanding of the industry at hand. While our rates are not rock bottom, they are in line with domestic industry standards.
Taking it a step further, we strive to help guide our customers through the process so they understand exactly what they are paying for. At the end of the day, is paying a few dollars more worth the correct SEO, keywords and descriptions to lock in sales? We think it is. Feel free to reach out for an estimate on your project. In conjunction with Amazon’s Global Selling platform, we are eager to help you grow your business beyond North America.
Of the five following languages, which one has the most native speakers?
Chinese (Mandarin) has 1.2 billion native speakers
Spanish comes in second with 400 million native speakers
English comes in third with 360 million native speakers
Hindi ranks number 4 with about 330 million native speakers, but it’s complicated
Arabic comes in last, but like Hindi, it’s also complicated
The above figures are estimates and the numbers while close, are always changing. To add to the confusion, languages such as Hindi and Arabic can have such dramatic variations, that people who speak what they consider to be the same language are often not able to fully understand each other. Here we are talking about “native” speakers. If we consider people who speak an additional language, the numbers change significantly. For example, the total number of people who speak English fluently (not necessarily native) increases to more than half a billion, thanks to English being at the forefront of global business relationships.
Which language has the most words?
Most scholars would agree that English has the most words. However this can be quite tricky to calculate. English comes out on top because it borrows many of its words from the Germanic and Latin languages. It is also constantly creating new words with its emphasis on science, medical and technical inventions. The problem we encounter is, what constitutes a word? And if a single word has more than one meaning should this be considered two words or more? Let’s take the word ‘bear’ for example. Here are a few of its possible meanings.
*I couldn’t bear to see that movie again.
*She will get married and bear a child.
*A bear was spotted behind my neighbor’s house.
*The walls were not strong enough to bear the weight of the roof.
*Next year that tree will bear fruit.
*His excuse doesn’t bear close examination.
*I’m not going to bear the blame.
*That statement doesn’t bear repeating.
*Bear to the left or the boat will hit the buoy.
So what happens in the translation process when there is a word in English with no corresponding word in the target language? This takes us to the topic of: “transcreation”.
As currently understood and used, transcreation deals primarily with articles and copy written for the advertising industry. It is used to create an understanding of the meaning of the message and not simply a translation of the individual words. Let’s look at some common business slogans that word for word have little meaning in a foreign language, without being transcreated into a slogan that would reflect the meaning in that other language. I will give examples of “transcreation” in the world of advertising in the forthcoming blog.
Case Study – A Word is Born
Well, it wasn’t actually born the way puppies or fish or birds are born, but rather invented, or just plain made up.
In 1947 John Robinson Pierce, while working for Bell Telephone Laboratories, invented an electronic device he named a “transistor”. It replaced many of the functions of vacuum tubes, which back in the day were commonly used in radios. The device transfers an electrical current across a resistor, hence the term transfer + resistor, shortened to transistor. When you go to a global translation website today to find out what this word is called in different languages you’ll find that the following languages adopted the word without changing the spelling:
Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Turkish, Catalan, Czech, Romanian, Estonian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Hmong, Malay, Norwegian, Scots Gaelic, Somali, Sudanese and Welsh.
Other countries have incorporated the same word, but changed the spelling slightly to conform to their specific pronunciation.
Croatian = transistor
Slovak = tranzistor
Finnish = transistori
Hungarian = tranzisztor
Polish = tranzystor
Romanian = transistor
I didn’t include the character-based languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. because they use phonetic symbols to express the sound of the spoken word.
Since the beginning of human time, families, tribes, villages and countries have created words to define their world, express their feelings, thoughts and ideas. With the advent of the internet, jet travel and international business, the interchange of languages is growing and changing at a rate faster than any other time in history.
So what does this matter to us as translation industry professionals? There’s a couple key takeaways from the concept of transcreation and how it relates to our business. First and foremost, transcreation renders computer translations unusable. This is why here at TSI, we never use computer translation applications in the process of our work. Second, it shows the importance of hiring the right translator for the job. For example, when dealing with transcreated words relating to a specific industry, it’s essential to match that project with a native translator well versed in the lingo or jargon pertaining to said industry.
Because of our close to 30 years of experience working with very niche markets, our team of translators is ready to handle language subtleties with ease. If you have a need for translation of documents that are unique, don’t worry- we can handle them at TSI. There’s numerous ways to contact us for an estimate.
Very few languages use as many idioms as English, where they are found quite frequently even in business correspondence. At TSI, we see thousands of documents each year of all sorts of different content. Here are several idiom examples that have come across our desk.
Most experienced professional translators understand these common idioms and know if there are similar expressions in their native language. In addition, we thoroughly review every document intended for translation while looking for these phrases that have the potential to create misunderstandings. The problems arise when clients rely on software to translate their documents. Here is one of my favorites.
I’m pulling your leg.
We know that this means I’m joking with you or that I’m teasing you. The Spanish version of this is: Te estoy tomando el pelo, which translates back into English as “I’m taking your hair.” It’s as far away from the intended meaning in Spanish as I’m pulling your leg is in English.
So how does one avoid confusion or misunderstanding when venturing into the world of idioms?
Know your translator, and if you don't, feel free to reach out. We are always available for a consultation or a quote regardless if your documents contain idioms or not.
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.