Pluralization seems like a strange word. The most common conception pertains to changing a word’s grammatical form and function. But it can also be leveraged as a term that has farther-reaching implications; a shorthand for referring to how translation can help a message spread out further into the world and touch hearts and minds.
In this article, I’ll share some insights and tips into why translation is such a good outreach tool. After all, you don’t want your message to wither in the vine. Reaching your local market and client base is all well and good, don’t get me wrong. Nobody’s going to fault you for doing your job right, knowing what your target demographic is, and tending to their needs.
But, whether your needs are about reaching one or many, translation still serves a productive, human purpose; it can serve as a bridge between people, cultures, ideologies, and nations.
Are you going to stay out of the loop by not maximizing your content’s accessibility? Take a dive with me while I explain how translation can help you reach maximum content pluralization!
Translation: a short guide for the uninitiated
Translation is everywhere. It’s so invisible that people have confused it for a feature, and hardly ever think about the processes that make it possible. What is this pluralization powerhouse?
Translation refers to accurately conveying information from one language into another. It seems simple, right? While appearances can be deceiving, here are the broad strokes of translation:
- The translator reads and internalizes the content of a text in the original language. This will hitherto be referred to as the source language.
- They convey the meaning of the original text into the target, or destination, language.
Again, this may make it seem like a straight-ahead, automatic process. But, in reality, translators have to interpret the meaning of a text and try to accurately convey its content, rather than just the words. Translators are not just thinking about a simple input/output process, as 1/1 translation is not generally possible, not desirable. Not all languages have perfect word analogs that can be used in lieu of one another. There are also idioms, pre-made phrases, colloquialisms, and phrase structures that can make a translator’s life harder.
That’s why literal translation should not be seen as a part of pluralization efforts. It’s got its place, sure. Legal documents, technical papers, etc. require function over form. Even when a translator doesn’t convey their contents in a beautiful fashion, they can get the point across.
Pluralization, for the purposes of this article, will refer to translation efforts that break down collective barriers. Now, let’s delve a little deeper into some of the debates around how content should be translated.
Pluralization: beauty or fidelity?
Like I mentioned above, it’s not the same to translate a dry academic text about house mold than a Borges text. Both call upon different skills on the part of a translator. For example, the first text may not need embellishment of any kind for meaning to be translated. In fact, it’s usually better to go for a janky turn of phrase than a delicate flower of reconstruction for these cases.
But, what happens when a translator is dealing with the literary works of a major, acclaimed author for example? What happens when their turns of phrase are so baroque, so out there even for their own language, that they defy translation? Even more, what can be done when it comes to jokes, puns, plays on words, or other language-dependent structural dilemmas? Translation theory, as is the case with many branches of academic endeavor, is of two minds about it.
Some may opt to go with a footnote-heavy approach. They will try to transfer meaning as efficiently as possible, but will still let readers know about their process. Another approach is attempting to create a new version of the text that bridges the gap. This can be done with varying degrees on success but will hinge on one crucial aspect: the translator always has to be a good writer.
Even though they must endeavor to be as invisible as possible, they are what makes the pluralization effort possible. Some, of course, will have a little ego about it. Look no further than these words by Haruki Murakami’s English translator, Jay Rubin
When you read Haruki Murakami, you’re reading me, at least ninety-five per cent of the time.
Whatever your thoughts about them, there’s one clear thing that should be spoken out loud more: translators must be good writers.
Pluralization and localization
Localization is another crucial tenet behind any pluralization effort. If you aim to reach a global audience, speaking their language is only the first barrier. There are lesser-known factors to take into account when trying to reach a new group. Not all cultures are created equal, and that means that symbols, structures, colors, phrases, and ideas may carry different meanings.
I won’t go in-depth about how many translation gaffes have been committed (many), even by talented translators. When trying to cater to the tastes of a new audience, know them in-depth beforehand! For example, in our article about website localization, we discuss just how many factors come into play:
Website localization means custom designing your website to create a compelling site that appeals to your users in a foreign market. Your content will be adapted to suit local tastes; which means everything from the language, layout, currency, measurement units, images, date and time formats, and more to fit the cultural norms of the intended target audience.
And that extends to much more than just websites! Subtitles, dubs, books, magazines, etc. — all should bow down to the mighty gods of localization. Simply put, if you don’t address this issue, you’re better off not translating your content in the first place.
A personal note on content pluralization
I’ve worked as a translator for a significant period of my professional life. That means I’ve seen so many authors, webmasters, and content creators come and go that I can fill a few lengthy tomes. Most of them had drive, desire, passion, and a will to succeed. While not all of them had great content on their hands, there are simple things that separated the winners from the obscure. One of them was paying attention to pluralization through localization.
Small authors, in particular, don’t know what they don’t know. That’s why publishing agencies talk such a big game. Because they’re equipped with multi-level structures that can handle the demands of international markets.
But, small authors and entrepreneurs trying to break in usually have a simplistic view of what a translation entails. They’re not thinking about localization or pluralization. They’re stuck in the input/output paradigm of literal translation. That’s why they’ll usually go for the first bilingual person who’s offering very low rates. Unfortunately, thinking in dollar signs today will probably not result in those dollars multiplying in your pockets later.
The long and the short of it is that being bilingual is only the first part of being a translator. The other means knowing your target market, very, very, very well. For example, do you think that a Chilean national who’s never heard a word from Colombia is the right person to translate a Young Adult novel set in Cartagena? Especially if that novel’s filled with colloquialisms, slang, and cultural references, chances are he’s going to botch it.
Knowledge of accents, dialects, and the local culture you’re aiming at is the first step in your pluralization strategy. It’s no exaggeration to say that your project’s existence depends on it.
Where to find good translators
That’s a little easier if you’re willing to be professional about it. And that means, usually, getting out of the rate race, and going for pros with tried-and-true results is a solid investment. Sure, you can go on platforms like Fiverr and go for those “Pay $5 for 10000000000 words” tricksters, but chances are you’ll regret that decision. Think about the risks for a minute:
- Why is the person charging so little for what’s essentially a premium professional service?
- What are this person’s credentials?
- How is this person going to be translating these texts?
- What past work of theirs can you take a look at?
- Moreover, how do you know that the output they will produce — in a language you can’t read — is of sufficient quality?
- Where’s the oversight? Where are the quality checks?
I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that many of these so-called professionals are not producing work that will pass any scrutiny. Moreover, many are abusing machine-assisted translation tools that do not produce good material. Make it easy on yourself: if you use these platforms (no reason why you shouldn’t), for higher-tier professionals. Their rates will be worth it because their results will put you on the map and make you look good to your new clients and fans.
If not, the surefire option is to go with translation-centric hubs and platforms. Thes offer a curated selection of professionals with QA oversight. That means that it’s not just their say whether you as a client receive a piece of translation. A quality assurance staff that’s fluent in the target language will review the work so you get what you paid for. Rates on these platforms are usually higher, but they tend to be worth it. Agencies are more expensive still but are the way to go when you need a certified translation, especially if an apostille seal is required.
Pluralization is a way to extend your reach into a larger world. It means translating with sensitivity and an eye for local markets. For that, you should always retain the services of qualified professionals with a proven track record.
Go for pros that give your work the care and attention it demands, and you’ll experience success on the world stage!