Bridging Language and Culture Barriers in HR and Beyond

Top 10 Translation Tips

1. Your bilingual receptionist is not a translator.

Maybe she speaks Spanish with her family, but chances are her writing skills in Spanish are not professional. Does she hold a university degree from a Spanish-speaking country in a language-related field? If not, look elsewhere. If so, have an outside party evaluate her writing skills before asking her to translate your employee handbook. Written translation is difficult and time-consuming. How much easier is it to have a conversation than to write a professional document? Assuming that since someone speaks Spanish (or English, for that matter!), he should be able to write it professionally is like assuming that if someone plays baseball he should be able to ski—on black diamond slopes.

 

2. Professional translators are VERY nerdy!

They LOVE discussing indirect objects and when to use the subjunctive vs. the indicative. They are passionate about accents in Spanish and semi colons in English. They all have higher degrees because they didn’t want to stop going to school, even though no one wanted to sit with them at lunch. The good ones charge more, and they are worth it.

 

3. “Our safety manual shouldn’t cost that much to translate.

It’s only 90 pages in 10-point type.” Professional translation is not cheap. (See point #2).

 

4. Don’t assume that your employees won’t notice if there are errors in the document.

Many of them might not. But chances are at least one of them will. And what will she do? She’ll tell all her co-workers, but she won’t tell you! Spanish speakers tend to be very polite and are often reluctant to tell someone in authority that they have made a fool of themselves.

 

5. If you do not have a budget for professional translation, it is sometimes better to WAIT.

Do it right or don’t do it at all. Isn’t that a maxim you follow for other businesses initiatives? For example, if you want your Spanish-speaking employees to participate in your benefits, presenting them with a plan description full of errors will just reinforce their conviction that this offering is not really for them and that you don’t take them seriously. Better to make the best of things with English versions this year and plan and budget carefully to do things right in Spanish next year. The last thing you want is for your Spanish speakers to choose to participate and then be disappointed because they misunderstood the plan. Then they will tell everyone else that it was a complete waste of money, but again they will not tell you! You will simply watch as participation drops off.

 

6. If you are translating for clients or potential clients, treat them as such, and invest in them!

Would you be inspired to do business with a vendor whose written material confused “there” and “their”? Furthermore, you may be surprised by your ROI. Even a small number of happy Spanish-speaking clients can be a great source of referrals.

 

7. Maintain the same standards for your communication in Spanish that you would for your communication in English.

Would you have someone with only a 6th grade education in English handle your marketing materials? Your bilingual employees may have higher education, but did it prepare them to translate? You MIGHT luck out and come across an employee or a friend who can translate at a professional level even though they don’t have professional credentials. We have been in business since 2001 and have never seen this, but miracles do happen!

 

8. As in English, the same word in Spanish can have multiple meanings.

Therefore, translating a sentence word by word is often disastrous. Even though each word might technically be correct the sentence will make no sense. One example is “Medical carrier.” We have seen this translated as “Portador Médico.” “Portador” does mean “carrier,” but when referring to a disease or a germ, rather than insurance. “Médico” can mean “medical” but it also means “doctor.” So to a Spanish speaker, this phrase might look like “The doctor who has been infected.” At the very least, it will be quite confusing.

 

9. If you don’t see accents on your Spanish version, you’re in trouble.

 

10. Think about how important this message is to your company.

Has considerable time, energy, and money gone into creating the English version? Has your company contracted consultants or other experts in this process? Does the message have legal ramifications? Invest in the Spanish version accordingly.

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2. Professional translators are VERY nerdy!

5. If you do not have a budget for professional translation, it is sometimes better to WAIT.

7. Maintain the same standards for your communication in Spanish that you would for your communication in English.

1. Your bilingual receptionist is not a translator.

Maybe she speaks Spanish with her family, but chances are her writing skills in Spanish are not professional. Does she hold a university degree from a Spanish-speaking country in a language-related field? If not, look elsewhere. If so, have an outside party evaluate her writing skills before asking her to translate your employee handbook. Written translation is difficult and time-consuming. How much easier is it to have a conversation than to write a professional document? Assuming that since someone speaks Spanish (or English, for that matter!), he should be able to write it professionally is like assuming that if someone plays baseball he should be able to ski—on black diamond slopes.

 

2. Professional translators are VERY nerdy!

They LOVE discussing indirect objects and when to use the subjunctive vs. the indicative. They are passionate about accents in Spanish and semi colons in English. They all have higher degrees because they didn’t want to stop going to school, even though no one wanted to sit with them at lunch. The good ones charge more, and they are worth it.

 

3. “Our safety manual shouldn’t cost that much to translate.

It’s only 90 pages in 10-point type.” Professional translation is not cheap. (See point #2).

 

4. Don’t assume that your employees won’t notice if there are errors in the document.

Many of them might not. But chances are at least one of them will. And what will she do? She’ll tell all her co-workers, but she won’t tell you! Spanish speakers tend to be very polite and are often reluctant to tell someone in authority that they have made a fool of themselves.

 

5. If you do not have a budget for professional translation, it is sometimes better to WAIT.

Do it right or don’t do it at all. Isn’t that a maxim you follow for other businesses initiatives? For example, if you want your Spanish-speaking employees to participate in your benefits, presenting them with a plan description full of errors will just reinforce their conviction that this offering is not really for them and that you don’t take them seriously. Better to make the best of things with English versions this year and plan and budget carefully to do things right in Spanish next year. The last thing you want is for your Spanish speakers to choose to participate and then be disappointed because they misunderstood the plan. Then they will tell everyone else that it was a complete waste of money, but again they will not tell you! You will simply watch as participation drops off.

 

6. If you are translating for clients or potential clients, treat them as such, and invest in them!

Would you be inspired to do business with a vendor whose written material confused “there” and “their”? Furthermore, you may be surprised by your ROI. Even a small number of happy Spanish-speaking clients can be a great source of referrals.

 

7. Maintain the same standards for your communication in Spanish that you would for your communication in English.

Would you have someone with only a 6th grade education in English handle your marketing materials? Your bilingual employees may have higher education, but did it prepare them to translate? You MIGHT luck out and come across an employee or a friend who can translate at a professional level even though they don’t have professional credentials. We have been in business since 2001 and have never seen this, but miracles do happen!

 

8. As in English, the same word in Spanish can have multiple meanings.

Therefore, translating a sentence word by word is often disastrous. Even though each word might technically be correct the sentence will make no sense. One example is “Medical carrier.” We have seen this translated as “Portador Médico.” “Portador” does mean “carrier,” but when referring to a disease or a germ, rather than insurance. “Médico” can mean “medical” but it also means “doctor.” So to a Spanish speaker, this phrase might look like “The doctor who has been infected.” At the very least, it will be quite confusing.

 

9. If you don’t see accents on your Spanish version, you’re in trouble.

 

10. Think about how important this message is to your company.

Has considerable time, energy, and money gone into creating the English version? Has your company contracted consultants or other experts in this process? Does the message have legal ramifications? Invest in the Spanish version accordingly.