8. June 2022

Translation-oriented writing: Examples

Examples from the everyday life of a translator

Translation-oriented writing is good for every text

I don’t know about you, but I love reading real-life examples. Nothing contrived or far-fetched. Simply what really happened and how it was dealt with. We have received examples like this from our translatorJames as a result of our “Writing for Translation” series. He explains very clearly what can go wrong with translations from German into English and where pitfalls lurk if one does not also think about a possible translation into a foreign language when writing.

How not to do it

Translation-oriented writing is often about omitting unnecessary words or using a more comprehensible form of expression. This sentence is a prime example:

DE:  Das Starten der Maschine erfolgt durch die Betätigung der vorhandenen roten Taste durch den jeweiligen Betreiber.

For example, ‘vorhanden’ (meaning ‘present’) is such an unnecessary word: you can’t press a non-present key, so why emphasise it? And what is the ‘jeweilige Betreiber’ (‘respective operator’)? The operator who presses a button. An operator who presses the button should press the button. Now let’s look at the English translation:

EN:  Press the red button to start the machine.

The German text could take an example from the English translation. Simple, clear and still contains everything important.

Another common mistake when writing technical documentation is using imprecise words, e.g. ‘Anlage’. This could mean ‘machine’, ‘factory’ or ‘stereo’. Such general words are often mistranslated and dragged along in the TM. James once noticed that a relatively small machine was translated as a ‘factory’ because the translator simply could not picture what kind of ‘Anlage’ it actually was.

Localisation and transcreation: also an issue in technology

The USA has its own translation rules. You should never describe a product or service as ‘perfect’, even if it is in the original, because this could result in an expensive lawsuit. In America, in the rare event that something goes wrong, consumers can sue immediately instead of complaining. Large class action lawsuits that cost the company dearly are not uncommon. Therefore, such absolute adjectives should be avoided.

Also, there are no lower-case brand names or proper nouns in English. Since all nouns are written in lower case anyway, company names and brands are capitalised to emphasise them. In German, however, it is often the case that company or brand names are written in lower case for optical reasons, e.g. in the case of the mobile provider ‘easy’. Their slogan ‘an easy plan’ would not stand out in English, ‘easy’ would not be perceived as a brand name. If the translator then makes it ‘an Easy plan’, the client understandably doesn’t like it because it looks strange, almost like a typo. But this is the only way that the English-speaking world would even notice that this is a brand. Such examples regularly cause discussions between clients and translators.

Another example is product names that have a completely different meaning in translation. There have been some funny incidents especially in the area of bags and backpacks. One product was marketed in Germany using the English ‘body bag’ (oblivious of the connotations for an English-speaking audience). Another product made from recycled materials was called a ‘comebag’ (as a humorous reference to ‘come back’) – but this word means something very obscene in English. Something like this is noticed immediately in translation, but then it is already too late and the product is sent out into the wide world like this. Even with offensive or inappropriate product names. The well-known car name mishaps are also legendary. The ‘Mitsubishi Pajero’ and the ‘Ford Pinto’ mean swear words and obscenities respectively in Brazilian Portuguese. Peugeot has also had problems abroad – the translation into Chinese ‘Biaozhi’ sounds similar to the Chinese word for ‘prostitute’. Even big brands are not immune to such debacles.

Translation-oriented writing: indispensable in technical documentation

If technical editors, marketing specialists, product managers and bosses think about a possible expansion abroad from the very beginning, this will also help the translators in the long run and save costs and time. Elaborate solutions are no longer necessary, the language becomes simpler and more comprehensible overall – with so many advantages, it is surprising that not every company pays attention to translation-oriented writing.

Are you interested in the topic of ‘translation-oriented writing‘? We are happy to help you with this challenge. If you would like to know even more about the topic, please feel free to ask for our e-book “Translation errors/Translation-appropriate writing”. Or contact our project management team with your question at mail@comlogos.com. We will be happy to advise you and support you in creating your documentation with a view to subsequent translation.

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