Avoiding Costly Mistakes
Our views on quality
translations are reflected in a section of the book
Managing Diversity, by Lee
Gardenswartz, Ph.D., and Anita Rowe, Ph.D.,
for which Monica Moreno was
the common pitfalls in translation
In communicating in
a multilingual environment, you may find the need to put information in writing
in other languages. Monica Moreno,
intercultural communications expert and translator, explains that organizations
may unknowingly subvert their goals by not making use of professional
translators. She sees the mistakes and
the problems caused when translations are not professionally done, such as the
case of the poorly translated employee benefit program that led to workers’
disgruntlement when they didn’t get the “prize” (premio) they were mistakenly
promised. To make her point, Monica asks
executives if they would be comfortable having the receptionist make a
presentation on a complex company policy or program. She then explains that this is often what they
do when they assign a translation to any employee who happens to speak a second
language. What often results are the
most common translation pitfalls:
- Poorly written translations due to
incorrect grammar and misspelling, which insult readers.
- Inadequate translations due to lack of
understanding on the part of the translator.
- Inaccurate translations due to lack of
vocabulary and understanding on the part of the translator.
- Inappropriate translations due to the
translator’s inability to write to the level of the reader.
Monica, a native of
Argentina, gives the following suggestions to assure accurate and appropriate
translations that achieve the organization’s objectives:
translator should be a native speaker of the language he/she is writing. While Monica is fluent in English, Italian
and French, she writes only the Spanish translations because Spanish is her
native language. A native speaker
generally has the most complete grasp of a language.
translation should be edited by a native speaker from a different country than
the original translator’s. This is
specifically important in the Spanish-speaking world, where regional and
national differences in vocabulary and idiomatic expressions can cause confusion.
3. Use a
professional translator. While
interpreters in the United States are certified, there is no official U.S.
certification for translators as there is in many other countries. A professional understands the nuances of
communication and has the ability to grasp different levels of content from
simple to complex. Also, information may
be more credible coming from an objective outsider who has no vested interest
in the communication nor previous relationship with staff. He/she is also able to adjust the translation
to suit the target group. Checking
references and having a native speaker read a sample might be ways to verify
the translator’s skill.
the translated message with question/answer sessions in the language of
staff. An employee newsletter is
generally understandable to all who can read; however, if the document being
translated has to do with policies, procedures, or programs, there is a need
for employees to discuss implications, get clarification, and verify
understanding. This can best be done in
an explanation session held in the employees’ native language.
ahead, and budget for translation services.
To have a document written by an executive vice president and checked by
the legal department and then have it translated by a bilingual employee with a
sixth-grade education, is asking for trouble.
Include the cost of translation in the budget when planning for any
program that needs to be communicated to non-English-speaking employees.
6. If you
use internal bilingual staff to translate, verify the translation. Having the document translated back into
English by another bilingual employee is a way to check for accuracy.
the option of translation in a nondiscriminatory way. If you ask employees if they want a
translation of a document or a session in their native language, workers are
apt to say no. Most don’t want to be a
burden to the organization nor expose their lack of English skills, so they
would be reluctant to respond with a yes.
It is more helpful to make the option available in a matter-of-fact way,
by providing two stacks of documents, one in each language, or two discussion
groups, Spanish in room A and English in room B.