Tuesday, 20 February, 2018 - 11:17


Translation today has become more about what the client has in mind than the actual document/text/webpage. More often than not the client isn’t interested in ‘the thing itself’, but the effect it will have: in most cases, whether it will sell or not. Once again, the medium really does seem to be the message. No matter how faithful, accurate or even brilliant the translation is, if the interest it engenders by its very existence is minimal to zero, then, in the view of the client, it’s not fit for purpose.

Of course it depends on what is being sold and who the target consumers are. Mosquito nets are unlikely to be flavour of any month in Manchester, nor will there be many takers in Benghazi for holidays in Tampa Bay right now. That said, the explosion in online companies in the last 15 years or so has demonstrated that a sharp, reader-friendly webpage combined with maximum exposure is a sine qua non if the company is to succeed. Competition is hotting up in some areas, while in others virtual monopolies (e.g. Amazon) have resulted. Clearly, there is some kind of evolutionary ‘survival of the fittest’ going on in cyber space. Therefore, how the site is presented and what is actually written is crucial, especially when the potential readership/clientele is taken into account. So, it’s important to get it right first time around, which means paying very careful attention to the language used. A poorly presented, badly written site is very likely to turn people off. Big time! It is after all the virtual equivalent of a shop window display.

It is true that today, there is a preference for economy of text so that a) it reduces the likelihood of error and b) the visual image will reach even those who barely understand the language. In the not so distant past, it was a commonplace to say that no one read the ‘small print’, now some vendors avoid using any print at all. Symbols, icons, and figures can now lead us to the promised land of a sale with hardly a word on the horizon. How many of us have booked a flight without having read more than half a dozen words, ‘skip’ being the most useful and frequently used? That notwithstanding, there does seem to be some kind of agreement as to what a company’s website should include: homepage, contact page, products-services available, but will this always be the case? It’s now vital to be ‘ahead of the game’, ‘leading the gold rush’, use ‘cutting-edge technology’ and ‘state-of-the-art’ methods. Delete where appropriate or where you think its clichéd!

Therefore, if it is reluctantly conceded that the client may not always fully consider what they are expecting from a translation for their site, it might just be time to give them a gentle nudge in the right direction. The following series of questions are thus suggested to ensure that client and translation provider are ‘reading from the same song sheet’. If they’re not, then it could all ‘end in tears’! Boo hoo!

1. What is the subject/ field of the text?

2. Is the original text to be used on the webpage/in the publication or both?

3. Is your text a rough outline/ first draft or is it complete as it stands?

4. Do you want the style/register to be fact-heavy or attractive/marketing-heavy?

5. How often will your site be updated?

6. Who are you targeting the translation for? 

  • The general public
  • Professionals working in the same area
  • Other retailers
  • All of the above  

7. What level of (Greek?, English?, Spanish?, Chinese?, etc.) do you expect most visitors to the site have? 

  • Low
  • Basic
  • High

 8. If the translation is to be in English, will it be thereafter translated out of English into other languages? Which?

There are most likely other questions that could be added to this list which would further ‘fine tune’ the client’s requirements and at the same time clarify the translator’s task. Given that styles and modes change in website construction just as in every other facet of commerce, it is all the more important that this clarity is reflected in the content, which will certainly include the language employed.


David Anderson