When you want to forge a lasting connection with prospective clients, there’s no better option than speaking their language by hiring a translator, and many brands elect to go the native translation route. Crossing the linguistic barrier to accommodate your target audience does more than just make things convenient. It also shows that you care enough to put in the effort, so it’s an essential element of effective PR. The only real question is what kinds of translators you’ll depend on to help you get the job done.
Native translation services are provided by translators who also happen to be native speakers of your target language. While there’s nothing wrong with hiring a non-native translator who’s proven their worth by mastering a foreign language, native translators may bring something extra to the table with their contextualized knowledge.
Will hiring a native translator give your message longer legs and help your branding spread? Here are some of the fundamentals you ought to explore before making this crucial creative outsourcing decision.
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Is Native Translation Better Than the Alternatives?
Even though many native translation companies tout the superiority of their services, it’s not entirely clear whether hiring a native speaker will always lead to better results. When making any translation decision that relates to your branding strategy, it’s wise to consider the following factors:
Upfront Price Tag
Does native translation cost more? It all depends, but the good news is that most translation services work within the same unified market. Because native translation companies have to compete with a range of competitor types, they tend to keep their prices competitive.
That being said, it’s not uncommon to pay a premium for higher-end translation. Remember, however, you shouldn’t get roped into shelling out extra cash just because someone says their translators are native speakers.
As with any business expense, your money should go towards partners that boast demonstrable quality indicators. In this case, academic language certifications are a fairly safe bet. For instance, if you were translating your website’s copy from English into Japanese, then you’d want translators who passed some level of the JLPT, or official Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. Many countries have some form of governing language body. These organizations are good places to start when looking for situation-appropriate credentialing standards.
Service Quality Indicators
Will working with a native translator make your ads more intelligible or help them win hearts and minds? Merely having been raised in a specific language environment doesn’t necessarily guarantee that someone will provide stellar translation services. On the other hand, people who study foreign languages in-depth don’t always catch the subtleties and casual colloquialisms that make literal, word-for-word translations so ill-advised.
Once again, standards come to the rescue in a major way. In addition to pursuing academic degrees in the different languages they work in, translators can also seek various forms of professional credentials. Which option best suits your purposes depends on the situation:
Getting to Know Municipality-level Credentials
Translation credentialing programs are commonly offered by local government entities, such as the language certification and testing frameworks overseen by Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services. State courts also tend to maintain various certification standards, and finding translators who live up to these guidelines may be more appropriate when you’re dealing with legal documents.
One important thing to note is that not all court systems have the same rules. The vast majority try to target the most widely spoken languages in the constituencies they serve. If you were looking for a translator who was proficient in a less-common tongue, such as Haitian Creole, you might be best off seeking a local provider or one that served a big Creole-speaking community.
Exploring Trade Body Credentials
Different industry organizations work to implement viable translation standards that their members must uphold. These bodies aren’t always uniform, so it’s wise to pick the right option for your target country.
Imagine that your products were about to make a big debut on foreign shores. You decide to translate some product sales descriptions from French to English, but you face a unique problem. Australian, American, Canadian, and other forms of English vary in terms of their spelling, expressions, and even a few of the basic grammatical rules that most people take for granted.
How could you solve such a sticky problem? If your target audience was in the UK, then you might seek a translator with Association of Translation Companies, or ATC, credentials. If you wanted to begin marketing to consumers in the US, you’d probably look for the American Translators Association, or ATA, label.
Understanding Government Frameworks
We already saw how tests like Japan’s JLPT exemplify nationally standardized language proficiency rubrics. In countries like the US, translators commonly go through the Department of State’s testing framework. You should be aware, however, that there are distinctions between standards for translators and interpreters.
Internationally, the United Nations has specific career standards for those who want to work as translators. The UN is also a prime example of how the industry terminology can get a bit confusing — These professionals are grouped by their “main language,” which is the language in which they received their higher education. Outside the UN, you may encounter the term “main language” used to refer to the primary language that a translator works in.
Why Do People Use Native Translation?
If credentials are the best indicators of translation quality, then why do people make such a fuss over native translators? After all, someone who’s a poor student of their own language won’t magically become an expert in another if they have a subpar work ethic.
Many people feel that native speakers are better at expressing themselves naturally. Intuitively, this makes sense to anyone who has ever struggled to remember the answers to a high school foreign language test or answer a casual question in a second tongue without embarrassing themselves. Language is full of tricky pitfalls. Native translation might make it easier for your brand to sidestep some of the most damaging:
Tackling Tough Turns of Phrase
Colloquialisms, or everyday expressions, can add depths of uncertainty to otherwise straightforward phrases. For instance, suppose that you’d never heard the expression “turn of phrase.” You might have difficulty figuring out that the title of this section just means different ways of saying something, not that the expression is somehow revolving or changing its meaning.
Colloquialisms are also incredibly tricky for those who lack prior exposure. For starters, they can defy logic — saying that you’re “snowed under” might not have anything to do with the weather. Even more confusingly, such idioms may be extremely similar to expressions that mean something totally different.
Let’s look at a quick example. In English, you might say you were going to “take out the garbage,” before putting your household waste into the curbside bin. Or, you might tell someone you wanted to “take out a withdrawal from the bank” because you were running low on money. Although the terms sound similar, confusing their meaning could lead to some disastrous financial consequences. Possessing the necessary background of informal practice might make it easier to keep it all straight.
Avoiding Nonsensical Literal Translations
As we mentioned earlier, translating things word-for-word doesn’t always work. This is clearly evident in the case of colloquialisms since most expressions develop within a specific language and might not have close parallels in others. For instance, in Italian, someone who wanted to express the fact that they were just barely making ends meet could say, “sbarcare il lunario.” What would you get by translating these words into English without considering their context? It might be something close to “unloading the almanac,” which doesn’t make much sense.
Literal translations also pose troublesome challenges in the realm of technical content that isn’t always easy to find in your dictionary. Redefining technical speech in other languages can be equally trying. Although nobody’s perfect, native speakers might prove better at discerning the right meanings. Their knowledge is built on more extensive exposure instead of being limited to just what you’d learn in classroom courses.
These examples also go to show the value of picking native translators who understand nuance or have backgrounds outside of linguistics. A native translation expert who’s heard the differences in common expressions between languages is more likely to choose the right mode of speech. Such a distinction might prove vital to keeping your content from sounding like some buggy AI generated it.
Ditching False Friends
In some cases, specific words can prove extremely perilous. It also doesn’t help that the boundaries of languages aren’t quite concrete. Most dialects are packed with loan translations, also known as calques after the French word for “copy.” These loan words are literal translations of foreign expressions. For instance, English borrowed the term “Adam’s apple” from the French pomme d’Adam.
But wait, we hear you protest — Surely, this contradicts our earlier warnings against literal translations. In reality, calques can confuse the issue even further by prompting people to look for similarities that don’t exist. The problem is so prevalent that there’s even a term for it: false friends, or deceptive cognates. These phrases play on people’s tendency to draw connections by appearing remarkably similar to foreign-language words. Unfortunately, these links are often wholly inaccurate on top of being misleading. For instance, a stanza in Italian means a room, not a well-defined chunk of poetic expression.
False friends are notoriously challenging to get right without native experience. Almost everyone who ventures beyond their first-language comfort zone typically struggles with a few deceptive cognates along the way. Native translation providers, however, start better equipped to dodge them successfully.
Developing the Appropriate Tone
Linguistic expression is about more than just using the right words — how you leverage them is equally important. Striking the right mood with your listeners comes at a premium.
Sadly for non-native translators, tone and context are some of the hardest aspects of proficiency to master. Without direct, ongoing experience of a culture, for example, it can be impossible to tell when people are making jokes. It can also hard to judge whether it’s acceptable to join in. High-impact branding is all about finding the right voice for your enterprise. Working with natives might be the ideal way to ensure your context survives the jump as your original phrasing undergoes an outward transformation.
Devising an Ideal Native Translation Strategy
Hopefully, you’re feeling a bit more knowledgeable about the distinctions between native translators and other options. Don’t get confused. We don’t want to discourage you from working with enterprising non-native translation providers that diligently mind their grammar, spelling and phrasing rules. Still, it’s worth considering that hiring natives might make your life easier. This is especially true if you take the time to employ well-credentialed, experienced providers.
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