When you are a content producer with a completed project in front of you, it can be tempting to feel like your work is finished. You have poured your blood, sweat, and tears into the work, and now you have perfected it. But, next, there’s content localization. And, the first step in that is translating content for your audience. If that’s in Russia, you naturally need a five-star Russian translator!
But, how can you find a great one? Is it okay to use online translators, or are humans really better? Once your content has been translated, what are the next steps?
We’ll be answering all of these questions shortly. But first, let’s start with the basics.
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This post was updated in June 2021
What is a Russian Translator?
A Russian translator converts written text or spoken words in one language either to or from the Russian language. For instance, a Russian translator may take a book originally written in Russian and convert it into French as part of its European distribution process. Or, another translator might take a speech given on American television and convert it into a script written in Russian, so that Russian voice actors can record dubbed audio over the video.
For the purposes of this article, we will assume your goal is to translate your content to Russian, as opposed to the other way around. Also, the phrase “Russian translator” may refer to either a human being or a computer translation program. We will examine the differences between the two, and the pros and cons of each, in later sections.
The Cyrillic alphabet versus the Latin alphabet: what’s the difference?
If you have ever taken a look at Russian text or pictures of Russian signs, you have probably noticed that their letters look nothing like the letters we use when writing in English. That’s because the Russian language is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, as opposed to the Latin alphabet used in English speaking countries.
Encyclopedia Britannica provides a handy pronunciation chart for all of the 32 Russian letters. If you take a look, you will notice interesting sounds that are more easily represented by combinations of letters rather than single letters in English. For example, in Russian, there is a single character that represents the sound made when you combine two English letters: “sh.”
Once you understand the sounds that each Cyrillic letter represents, you may be able to start to “sound out” Russian words, much like children do when they first begin to read any language.
Is it okay to use a Russian translator who writes Russian with the Latin alphabet?
Due to the differences between the two scripts, Latin alphabet users sometimes struggle with learning the Cyrillic alphabet. If you have done any research so far into finding a Russian translator, you have probably come across a few that offer the Russian language written in the Latin alphabet.
This is generally done as a halfway measure, and not as an official translation, so don’t be tempted to take this shortcut. One of the main reasons the Latin alphabet version of Russian is still in use is that it is sometimes more convenient for texting or online chatting purposes. Sometimes, text character limits and Latin-only keyboards mean that it is indeed easier to use Latin characters rather than Cyrillic ones.
However, while Russian sounds can be written with Latin letters, the result is not at all natural to most actual Russian readers. Unless your readers have spent a ton of time practicing Latin letters in online forums, at least some of them are likely to be confused and unhappy. If you were to try and pass a halfway translation off as part of your Russian localization process, your future Russian audience would not be impressed.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, or if you need further convincing not to do your translation this way, this Reddit discussion provides some insight into what Russian readers really think of this practice.
Should you use an online Russian translation engine or hire a human translator?
The answer to this question depends on the type of content you create and the audience you intend to reach.
Online translation programs can’t emulate human brainpower, but they can sometimes do simple jobs effectively enough to get by.
For example, if your task is to translate one-word snippets or simple phrases, a translation engine might be all you need to get started. If you plan on publishing your content for consumers, however, you will definitely want to have native Russian speakers proofread your content for accuracy before you go live.
More complicated projects will likely require the human touch. As powerful as translation programs are, they often misinterpret the context and connotation of longer passages of text. Or, they translate certain phrases such as idioms literally, which often results in the translated text making no sense at all.
Humans, on the other hand, understand complicated concepts such as context and appropriate word choices. An experienced translator will preserve the original, intended meaning of a passage of text. Whereas, a computer-generated translation would simply have a word-for-word substitution.
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If you are still on the fence, take a look at this breakdown of the benefits both computers and humans can provide for your project:
Computer translation programs:
- Great for translating single words or simple phrases
- Often free and extremely easy to use
- Can generate rough, literal translations of huge documents in minutes
- Understand context, connotation, word choice, idioms, and complicated phrasing
- Provide high-quality translations of complex texts that would make sense to readers of the destination language
- Preserve the intended meaning of passages that convey emotions or other subtle nuances
- Make educated decisions about word choices when no exact translation of a word or phrase exists between the two languages
What is the key takeaway?
If you want your content to be easily understood and perceived as high-quality among native Russian speakers, it is always better to hire a human translator who is a native (or highly fluent) speaker of Russian.
Of course, cost is a factor.
Human beings will expect payment in exchange for their services, while computer translation programs are frequently free or very inexpensive. However, if you plan to publish your content where international audiences will see it, do yourself a favor and hire a high-quality Russian translator.
Your brand is at stake.
When people read badly-translated text or watch a video where the script makes no sense, they make snap judgments. Most people will jump to the conclusion that your product is low-quality or cheap. Surely, a high-quality brand would have taken the time and effort to get a proper translation before moving to publication and distribution, right?
Everyone makes these innate assumptions. It’s human nature. You have probably made those same snap judgments about some foreign products yourself.
Don’t let the fact that you know your content is amazing and your product is top-notch blind you to the fact that no one else knows that, yet.
A bad translation makes a bad first impression. There is simply no way around that fact. Cutting corners only highlights the fact that you didn’t put in the effort to make your content seamlessly localized.
A good Russian translation, however, allows your audience the chance to appreciate your content that way you want it to be appreciated.
Once you have translated your content, what else do you need to do?
In the overall process of content localization, translation is only one step of many.
For a brief look into the next steps you should take, glance through this list:
- Have your translated material double-checked (or better yet, triple-checked) by proofreaders and beta readers. These quality testers should ideally speak Russian as a native language, though people with high-fluency levels can also be valuable. They can point out any literal translation mistakes, such as idioms, proper nouns, mistranslated synonyms, or other issues that may have slipped through the cracks in your translator’s editing process.
- Redesign your format (whether your product is a web page, an ebook, a video, a game, or any other medium, it doesn’t really matter) to fit the newly translated text. Words in one language will usually not match up in length with words in another language. This is especially true when the alphabets themselves are different, as with the Latin to Cyrillic conversion. So, when you try to fit your translation onto the original page or screen, you will likely need to rearrange things so they fit properly and look good.
- Research the culture of your destination market. You might be surprised to learn that some cultures view certain colors and symbols differently than others. If your content leans heavily on the color scheme and imagery, that could spell trouble. You might need to swap out some of these design features for others that more appropriately fit the destination culture.
- Integrate all of these changes and then have further quality testers review your content before launch. You can never be too careful when it comes to making a great first impression!