Is Context The Real Root of Your Translation Troubles?

Each business begins its content translation journey with a slightly different dream, but many end up sharing a common nightmare: Fixing flawed translations after they’ve been published.

Translators have to take a second pass, proofreaders have to take a closer look, and developers have to take time out of their schedules to implement emergency edits. All the while, project costs incrementally increase and productive work gets put on hold.

Inexperienced colleagues or careless attitudes are rarely to blame, though. Even the most diligent organizations can slip into this unsavory cycle.

More frequently, we find that the real problem lies in leaving teams without the context they need to get translations right the first time.  

Omit Context At Your Own Risk

Traditional translation processes begin by copying and pasting source text strings into a spreadsheet. That file is then emailed to a translator who neatly places target text in the corresponding column and returns it for review. This simple workflow may suit the project manager, but it often places the translator in a precarious position.

Supplying source text via spreadsheet, or even a simple CAT tool, provides no context as to how a phrase is intended or how it fits into the broader content strategy. As a result, translators are confronted with all kinds of grammatical and stylistic ambiguities.

Which of the three possible verb definitions makes the most sense for the sentence?

Should the tone stay strictly professional or can it be slightly more playful?

Will the web design fail if the target text ends up longer than the source text?

Translators know they’re delaying projects by a few degrees each time they pause their work to email one of these inquiries. And more often than not, it could be a day or more before they receive a response. As a result, translators frequently solve minor ambiguities with an educated guess.

When their best bet isn’t correct, though, a cascade of inefficiency often ensues. Mistaken or otherwise unusable translations suddenly become clear in the context of a live publication and teams are cast into error resolution mode. The translation workflow begins again with added review steps, translation costs go up, and the odds of launching the localized site on time go down.   

Help Translators Help You

Minimizing ambiguity is the key to maximizing efficiency in the workflow outlined above. Anytime translators get it right the first time, that cycle of redundant work is avoided altogether and replaced with a linear path of progress.

Ambiguity can be partially addressed by providing translators with clear instructions, detailed glossaries, and comprehensive style guides. But in the end, there is no translation gift greater than visual context.

Seeing source text situated inside its associated web page, mobile app, or business document instantly clues translators into everything from to design restrictions to grammatical conventions.

Canary German

In the example above, security system manufacturer Canary was translating its marketing website from English to German. If the highlighted string (“Uses”) was presented to the translator in isolation, it may have been difficult to decide whether the word was intended as a verb or noun. But given the visual context of the homepage’s navigation menu, the translator could quickly draw two conclusions.

First, “Uses” was meant to mean “common applications of the Canary product” in this instance. And second, the navigation menu and minimalist design clearly called for a concise translation.

Reimagine The Translation Process

Context ultimately breeds confidence. Translators feel safer in their assumptions, editors anticipate fewer problems, and localization managers see no reason to push back project deadlines.

Once this confidence is confirmed by a few successes, an even more profound change often occurs. All of a sudden, companies can operate under the assumption that translations will be right the first time. Instead of maintaining elaborate contingency plans with exhaustive review processes, company resources can be reconfigured and redirected toward more pressing priorities.

That may mean boosting the ad campaigns directing traffic to the localized site, or simply tackling translation with a leaner team. In any case, we’re confident that it’s a conversation most localization teams would love to have.

Learn More

The Smartling platform provides visual context to every collaborator, at every translation step, across any file format. Explore our In-Context Translation and Review product brief for additional details.