Lost in translation

There’s a good reason why awards are handed out each year to translators – the unsung heroes of international publishing. While, in a pinch, Google Translate gives an impression of what’s being said, it hardly facilitates deep comprehension. Whether it’s highbrow literature or biomedical research, the skill of adapting materials so that foreign readers understand not just the gist, but the nuances, of a document is invaluable.

What’s in a word? More than you’d think

With the best of intentions, busy translators in the corporate sphere – be they agency-appointed or a company employee who happens to speak a reasonable level of the target language – often reproduce text using the most literal interpretation. This results in black holes in meaning – which is where a good editor is able to step in and adapt content so that it’s more appropriate for local audiences. German sentences may be infinitely longer than English ones, and in the direct translation from Russian, “small numbered people” might sound like a fitting explanation for “minorities”. But in a globalised world, when your investors could come from thousands of miles away, what matters is clarity for the audience you’re hoping to reach – and if they have to spend extra time puzzling over meaning, they may give up before they really give your materials a chance.

Stumbling blocks will flummox your audience

We’ve all heard of unintentionally bemusing signage and branding appearing thanks to a lack of thorough market research: from the whimsical (a sign forbidding people from walking across a Chinese green space with the words, “Do not disturb, tiny grass is dreaming”) to the unfortunate (Schweppes running a campaign in Italy encouraging people to try their “toilet water”, for example.) But there are less obvious trip-ups that may still irk readers. It might be that in a particular language, you would dispense with articles such as “the” – or reverse the order of verbs and adverbs (writing “held regularly meetings”, for instance, rather than “regularly held”). They may seem like small matters, but what you don’t want is a reader’s flow being disrupted.


You know the old saying…if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And if that something is making sure your shareholders and stakeholders understand your goals and activities, it’s worth every penny.