Steps to Managing Spanish Language Translation

By May 04, 2009

The 2000 census counted 35,305,818 Hispanics in the United States. Hispanic groups estimate that several million more were missed. In 2007, the most recent year available, the Hispanic population had grown to an estimated 44,852,816. Given these numbers, this is an important audience to reach. However, from a language standpoint it’s not as simple as you may think.

It is easy to distinguish between the Spanish and German languages. Though both are Indo-European in origin, each obviously boasts its own vocabulary, unique pronunciation demands and discrete set of grammatical rules.

But how about discerning the difference between Mexican Spanish and the version favored in Spain, or Columbia? Spoken in some 23 countries by more than 450 million people, the language we know as “Spanish” is in truth really more a family of closely related languages.

If you have visited Madrid and Mexico City you know this firsthand. The idioms, slang, pronunciation and even grammar in one differ noticeably from those in the other. While interesting on a linguistic level, these variations can pose significant challenges in translation projects. To complicate matters further, there is also the issue of inconsistent literacy levels. Misjudge this important facet of translation and your audience is likely to struggle with an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of your materials.

Failure to successfully manage the issues of cultural sensitivity, literacy level and Spanish language variety can have far-reaching consequences for your business and your customer.

Meeting the needs of Spanish speakers

So say you’ve just been tasked with translating your organization’s brochure or Web site into Spanish. Familiar with the local demographics, you know that your area includes families from Cuba, Mexico and Honduras, and likely others. Each speaks a slightly different Spanish. How do you proceed?

Tips for Success

1. Go neutral

Today, thanks in part to widely available media like Univision, major Spanish newspapers and the Internet, these disparate varieties of Spanish are familiar and increasingly comprehensible to Spanish speakers of different backgrounds.

Meanwhile, a “Neutral Spanish” has developed to bridge the gap. Sometimes known as Latin American Spanish, it tends to disregard local grammatical and vocabulary differences in order to standardize the language. This makes it a perfect translation solution as it is likely to be easily understood by all Spanish speakers with whom you are communicating.

2. Don’t forget the visual
Colors, symbols, images — all are part of your message. Often these elements are responsible for the initial response in your audience before even a single word is read. So it’s imperative to adapt the entire communication, not just the words, to ensure the desired result.

This requires understanding both the protocols and the taboos that define ways of communicating in a given market. Cultural adaptation provides the cultural lens through which your non-English-speaking customers view your message, your products and services, and ultimately your value.

Making cultural adaptation a key feature of your translation effort is an important step in communicating with your market. By building those cultural elements into the final translation, you help ensure a culturally sensitive result that preserves the essential meaning of the original message without alienating your audience.

3. Create a style guide and glossary for consistency
Developing a reference manual can be a useful tool for helping ensure consistent translation results every time. Think of it as a sort of dictionary of terms and concepts and how they should be correctly translated and presented.

Creating a glossary in which to record the desired translations of product or services names, their features and other pertinent information is also key for consistency. By guaranteeing that translations are consistent across documents, you avoid confusion and present a unified image to your customers and potential customers.

Each term in the glossary should be accompanied by its definition in English and notes about how the term is used in different types of documents. Beside each term, written in the source language (e.g., English), should be the same term in the second language (e.g., Spanish).

3. Save time and money with translation memory
In the case of documents that don’t change much over time (i.e., technical information or order forms) you can store the translations in a database system called a “translation memory” for future use.

This resource gives the translator the option of choosing a stored translation when working on an identical or similar document. The translator uses the context of the project and past experience to determine if the translation requires modification. Large documents that go through new editions on a regular basis are especially good candidates for translation memory.

The benefits of such a tool can be dramatic. Though some documents may occasionally require new information, corrections or changes, storing them in this way provides a powerful opportunity to build efficiencies into your translation initiatives.

Not only does a translation memory help promote, along with style guides and glossaries, a valuable consistency across documents, it can also save you up to 25% on future translation costs.

5. Don’t forget the review
Finally, it is essential to present your style guide, glossary and term list to your in-house or community reviewers and translation teams at least a week in advance of the launch of a project. They require sufficient time to ask questions, get clarifications and make changes to help ensure accuracy, consistency and the nuance of your community.

Review by program managers or qualified members of the target audience can be another critical step in achieving the desired quality for your translated materials. It is best performed by one of your staff or a trusted associate.

Selection of the reviewer is important and tends to be most successful when based on the following criteria:

  1. Skill Set — The reviewer should be a native speaker of the target language, preferably reside in the target country, and be familiar with the product, terminology and end user.
  2. Role — The reviewer should understand his/her function in the translation process and its limitations to judging technical accuracy of the terminology, unless specifically asked to do more.
  3. Schedule — The reviewer should be able to commit to developing a glossary or writing style guide in advance, as well as scheduling adequate time for review.

Clarifying the reviewer’s role and schedule contributes to a more efficient translation process and helps ensure a timely completion of the project.

Getting it right — every time

When translating a language as multifarious as Spanish it can be difficult to ensure that everyone is receiving the same message. Following the steps above will allow you to streamline the process, while minimizing or eliminating many of the potential hazards along the way. The reward is accurate, timely translations that truly say what you mean.

Chanin Ballance (cballance@vialanguage.com) is CEO of ViaLanguage.

  • lgtatonihn

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