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Aventi Group


The Trouble with Translations

bill reed

By Bill Reed
Posted on January 2015 in Product Marketing

Earlier in my career, as a marketing director for a large international firm, I was tasked with translating marketing, sales, and training materials to support several regions. We needed to translate English versions of sales presentations, customer collateral, messaging, and training materials into more than a dozen languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and more. I thought this task would be simple. Just hire a translation service and let them run with it, right? Absolutely wrong.

Most translation services translate literally, that is, they take a word or phrase and translate it using its literal sense. For example, if I had a phrase like “backups for physical and virtual,” I knew this to mean that our solution could backup data in a physical and virtual environment. Unfortunately, the translation service translated this as: “go backwards physically and virtually.” I was therefore telling customers that our solutions could help them go backwards.

Like many firms, we had product marketing managers (PMMs) who often wrote most of the copy. Unfortunately, they tended to be very verbose. When a concept could be explained with ten words, they used two dozen. This proved quite expense for translations, as most services charge per the translated word. Naturally, I preferred to pay for ten words, not twenty-four. That meant I either needed to spend weeks trying to get a PMM who had never taken a writing class to condense his copy, or spend my precious weekends rewriting everything. Neither option was appealing.

The most troubling aspect I faced involved the training materials. These consisted of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations that needed to be recorded and output to a SCORM format compatible with our Learning Management System. This is where ordinary translation services fell apart. Virtually none had professional narrators, quality recording equipment, or the ability to understand concepts when reading scripts. How a narrator speaks a certain phrase in many languages can completely change the meaning. Also, amateur narrators sound, well, amateur. Little nuances can also make a big difference. For example, Chevrolet learned that their Nova car translated to “no go” in Spanish and using the name “Ira” for role playing translates to “Mr. Angry.” Last, but not least, traditional translation firms usually don’t have graphics artists on staff so when they do a translation, especially when copy is embedded in a graphic, it comes out looking horrible. The animations are often ruined, the copy runs off the edge of the page, and it’s a complete mess.

If all the above wasn’t bad enough, I worried day and night about quality. I don’t speak dozens of languages, so I personally had no way of verifying that the translations were done correctly. I had to rely on the field to do this, which disrupted their schedules and delayed getting things out the door—often by weeks or months. Even then, there were always issues, especially with literal versus conceptual translations. Technical terms and concepts just didn’t come out right, and I had to run everything back through the translators or rely on the field to make corrections. I finally decided that being “penny wise and pound foolish” was not working. Sure, I could save a few bucks with a low-cost service, but in the end I paid three or four times more to correct all the mistakes. What’s worse, I had to endure angry stares from my boss and field managers.

Years later, when speaking with most of my consulting clients, I discovered that they too were suffering from the same translation dilemmas I had endured years earlier. As I was tasked with creating and delivering much of the training material, collateral, and sales enablement tools for them, I decided to help resolve the translation issue as well. Now, I’m happy to report that my clients are thrilled that Aventi Group offers advanced translation services as part of our deliverables. For example, we recently completed a project for a multi-national, multi-billion dollar firm where we designed and created dozens of cutting-edge sales training programs and translated them across quite a few languages. We also recorded these presentations using professional narrators and recording equipment, output them to SCORM for their LMS, and ensured “five nines” of quality and accuracy. More importantly, we professionally edited the copy prior to translation. Given all our efficiencies, the cost was actually half that quoted by their “in region” translators and our client was thrilled with the conceptual versus literal translations they received.

Regardless of company size, virtually all of us do business globally. We need to ensure that our messaging, marketing, and materials speak directly and properly to our audience. If not, we risk looking unprofessional and losing business to competitors. If you’re struggling with your translation requirements, or are ready to take a step up in quality and a step down in cost, send an email today to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)