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.”
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.