Finding positives in the negative: How to deal with translation feedback

This month, we launched our own internal Linguistic Quality Assurance (LQA) process, which involves reviewing the work of a number of translators each week. Even though we already have a tight handle on translation quality by employing in-house translators, and also project managers who are native speakers of the languages they manage, we still felt that with the growing number of words we translate each month, it would be prudent to regularly check our work to maintain the high-quality standard of translation we promise our customers. At the same time, we also wanted to provide more regular structured feedback to our translators.

Often, when working for translation agencies or even direct clients, freelance translators don’t receive any feedback. If the work wasn’t quite up to scratch, the translator simply won’t be offered any more work. Which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t give the translator the opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve over time. Feedback is part and parcel of the professional working life. In our office, for example, our in-house translators receive training when they first start, followed by quarterly reviews and annual appraisals to discuss their progress, performance and personal development. Freelancers rarely get the same amount of feedback.

Not receiving any feedback can often leave translators assuming that ‘no news is good news’. As the translator, you might think everything is fine since you didn’t hear anything to the contrary. But that’s not necessarily true, because an agency or a client might just not give you any more work because they weren’t happy with the quality you delivered, and simply don’t tell you because it’s less hassle for them (collating feedback and dealing with the response to the feedback takes time). Receiving feedback, positive and negative, is therefore crucial for you as the translator so that you can be certain you are on the right track with your translations and can continue to secure work from that client or agency. Receiving positive feedback is the easy part, but dealing with negative feedback can be a little daunting.

Receiving negative feedback

Research has actually shown that people who are better at handling negative feedback tend to be more successful – and those that can’t are less so. Regarding negative feedback not as a bad omen or something to be scared of, but rather as fuel for personal growth, can help us become better translators.

Management Coach Wendy Birks says: “Receiving negative feedback on your work, a piece that you have put your heart and soul into is always tough, but you shouldn’t see it from the point of view that you are being criticised. Feedback is an essential part of any working relationship whether that is manager to employee or customer to translator. People see negative feedback as a ‘bad’ thing but a small adjustment to your mindset can change that.”

I remember when I first started out as a translator and received a negative feedback. I was absolutely mortified and immediately questioned myself, my ability to translate and pretty much my whole universe in general. But after about ten minutes, with the knot in my stomach slowly starting to dissolve, I started to look at the feedback again, this time a bit more objectively, and looked at the actual criticisms that were made. And it wasn’t so bad. Some points were justified and the reviewer made some good suggestions, others were more preferential changes. In hindsight, I learned so much from that one piece of negative feedback, it really helped me to become a better translator.

Even though it’s easier said than done, the first thing to do when receiving negative feedback is to take a deep breath, try not to worry and remember these things:

  1. Negative feedback is not a judgement of you as a person or your overall work as a translator – feedback tends to be about a specific piece of work you delivered.
  2. The fact that someone has taken the time to collate this feedback and send it to you means that they value your work overall and most likely want to continue to work with you.
  3. Receiving negative feedback is an opportunity to learn and improve.
  4. Remember that the feedback came from another person, who also has feelings and job responsibilities.

Analysing negative feedback

The next step is to analyse the feedback. It’s really important to look at the feedback objectively, leaving out any emotions. And I don’t just mean your own emotions. Sometimes the negative feedback itself can include emotions, for example if the customer/project manager was angry or upset when writing the feedback. In such a case, you have to ‘strip back’ any of the emotional comments and focus on the actual feedback that was provided. In the cold light of day, was the feedback justified? Can you see the reviewer’s point of view? Work your way through the list of comments and make a note for each one. Do you agree or disagree? And why?

Wendy says: “In my experience, people do not enjoy giving negative feedback and it is not given to be malicious. Negative feedback or constructive criticism is given so the individual involved can grow and learn. If a client felt you did a superb piece of work you would want to know about it and the same rules apply if you did a piece of work that was mediocre – you would want to know about it.”

Responding to negative feedback

How you react to negative feedback is a crucial part of the process, both for your own personal development but also in order to maintain healthy, long-term relationships with your clients. Hopefully, the feedback will have provided you with some constructive input on your translation. Whether or not you personally agree with all the changes, you have to acknowledge the feedback in a professional manner, and demonstrate that you will take it on board. Here are my tips on how to write a good feedback response email.

1) Take your time

Don’t respond immediately. I’ve seen it time and time again that our project managers send a feedback email and get a response within two minutes, the response often being very emotional and defensive. It’s natural to be upset or defensive as your first emotional response to criticism. But the point is, it really is only the first response. At that moment, you haven’t allowed yourself to look at the feedback objectively yet. So, hold off pressing the Reply button and let the feedback sink in before you respond.

2) Think of the bigger picture

Before you start writing your response, try to think of the bigger picture, i.e. your relationship with that customer or agency. Do you value the relationship and would like to continue working for them? This will help you to put this one piece of feedback into the context of your overall working relationship and help you to formulate a response that is measured and respectful.

3) Put yourself in the shoes of the feedback-giver

I always find it useful to think about the person who sent the feedback when formulating my response. If it’s a direct client, they might be an in-country marketing manager who has very specific requirements about the company’s tone of voice – and it is their responsibility to make sure that tone of voice is cohesive across all marketing assets. They might have to report to another senior manager, or might get judged on their localisation efforts based on that one translation. How can I respond to the feedback that explains my choices in an objective way but that also helps them do a great job? Or if I am responding to a translation project manager, they are most likely forwarding feedback from an unhappy customer – how can I formulate a response that they can pretty much copy/paste and send to the customer, saving them time, while putting their mind at ease that we are taking the feedback seriously? In the end, you want the person at the other end of the email to feel you are a team, and that you are working together to solve this problem.

Wendy says: “Being the ‘giver’ of the negative feedback is never a desirable position to be in so the understanding that it isn’t personal will make everyone’s job a little easier. Feedback is about being honest and coming to an understanding. It is a two-way street. If you feel that certain feedback was unfair then say so, have the conversation. Remain professional and find the lesson. From every negative comes a positive, you just have to find it and use it as an opportunity to grow.”

4) Acknowledge the feedback

As your first step when composing your email, it’s best to acknowledge the feedback and thank the customer/project manager/reviewer for taking the time to put it together. It’s a really small thing to do, but it speaks volumes about your professionalism.

5) Address the feedback

The next step is to validate the feedback. Remember to strip the feedback of any ‘emotional baggage’ and focus on the actual points that were raised. Do you agree or disagree? If you disagree, give an explanation why. When writing your explanation, remain objective and courteous, just the way you would like to be addressed too.

6) Learn from the feedback

If there were elements to the feedback that you deem justified, say in your email that you will take this into account for future translations.

Receiving feedback, positive and negative, is an opportunity for all of us to learn new things, adjust to our client’s preferences and fine-tune our skills. If you’d like to read some more on this topic, I found these two articles very useful:

Negative translation feedback – what an opportunity

Thick Skin Thinking: How To Use Negative Feedback To Your Advantage At Work

And if you’d like to find out more about Management Coach Wendy, check out her website.

Working with your translation

Face to face with the customer: a boon to localisation

Recently, a few of my translator colleagues and I were invited by one of our customers to spend a week at their offices. This customer localises their content into four languages for local markets across the globe, and we provide English to German translations for their blog posts, help resources and legal content. This meeting was part of the customer’s overarching strategy to optimise their localisation process. As it turned out, this was also an exciting opportunity to experience first-hand thought leadership in localisation. This customer approaches localisation not just in a successful, but in an exemplary manner. In this post, I want to share with you how this customer addresses four crucial aspects of the localisation process.

What can we as the customer do to make localisation a success?

That was the first question our host asked me and my fellow translators when we arrived at their offices. It is an important question to ask, as there are indeed several crucial things translators need from their customers. Many translators out there will probably give the same answers we gave that day:

  1. Understand the purpose and value of localisation.
  2. Give the translators as much context as you can.
  3. Provide translators with a direct point of contact (or several).
  4. Provide translators with feedback on their translations.

Up until this point, this particular customer had always been extremely diligent in fulfilling these requirements: We had several points of contact, and we could communicate with these individuals via different platforms. We received very detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement (via feedback sheets and online meetings), and had access to all the Q&As from other translators. Also, we had access to a vast pool of contextual information, including the customer’s product. So I asked myself:

How much more could this customer do to make localisation a success?

Well, during our week at the customer’s offices, they did go a couple steps further. Let’s look at the four points from above and see how our customer rocks every single one of them. To give you some additional context, I will introduce each point with an explanation of our requirements and/or the general status quo we’re experiencing in this area.


Context comes in many shapes and forms. As translators, more often than not, we piece together the context ourselves. We read up on customers, their products/services and their industry, we look for parallel texts (i.e. how do competitors phrase this?), we try to get access to the products/services and we ask questions. But there is only so much we can find out that way. The real goodies are the bits of information the customers provide. Again, this could be anything: pictures/screenshots, videos, style guides, access to the products/services, previous translations, etc.

There are two reasons why context is vital for a successful translation. Generally speaking, it allows us to write a text from the perspective of the customer. If we can’t put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, it’s not very likely that we can get the tone of voice right. For example, if we don’t know which audience we’re writing for or where our translations will be published, we might translate too colloquially or too “techy”, thereby deterring potential customers in the local market. On the word level, context is important, simply because words can have different meanings. Just look up the word “set” in your dictionary and you’ll find that its various definitions take up several pages. Now imagine you receive the brief: “translate set”. Without context, it’s impossible to work with this. The same problem can arise when we’re asked to translate isolated sentences. There is a lot of room for misunderstanding, as anyone knows who’s ever tried out the Google translation feature. A lack of context inevitably results in poor-quality translation, which instead of attracting potential customers in local markets, can deter them from even considering a purchase. So it is crucial to invest the extra time and effort at the beginning of the localisation process to provide translators with enough context.

How our customer rocks this: As I mentioned before, we’ve always had as much context as we could ever wish for from this customer, such as regular updates to the style guide and glossary, job-specific reference material, past translations, etc. However, spending several days at the customer’s offices and interacting with their team brought in a new context factor: transparency. Everybody was absolutely frank, direct and transparent in talking about the company, about its processes, its strategies, its lessons learned from the past, and its hopes for the future. This direct experience of the company culture was an invaluable part of our context-building efforts.

All this information gave us an unprecedented degree of context. Personally, I had one lightbulb moment after the other, as the dots connected and I felt like I had gotten to know the company as a “person”. I now have a much better idea of how the customer thinks, why they do what they do and how I can get this across to the (potential) customers in the German market.

Point of contact

I have experience working with a variety of different points of contact. This could be the owner of a business, a project manager, a Multilingual Vendor (MLV) who liaises between us and a customer, an internal reviewer, and so on. The ideal point of contact understands the localisation challenges, knows all about the translation task at hand, and is available to answer any questions that may come up.

Unfortunately, such a point of contact is often missing. It then feels as if you are working in a vacuum. If this is combined with a lack of context, the translation process moves at a snail’s pace. You lose time deciphering and making guesses. And you will inevitably feel very dissatisfied with the result of your work, as you can never be sure whether you got it right, got it sort of right or completely missed the mark.

How our customer rocks this: During our week with the customer, the translators got to meet many team members with different roles at the company. Some of these we had already been communicating with on a regular basis. So this was the perfect opportunity to open up the communication channels even further. As a German translator, I now was able to work directly with the people who review my translations. Again and again, they would stress the importance of communication and assure us that we should never hesitate to ask questions. And indeed, whenever we do ask questions, we can be sure that within a very short time period, we receive a comprehensive answer.


When you work with a client on a regular basis, it’s important that they tell you what you’re doing right or how you could change your translations to align them with what’s required. Otherwise, there is the potential for frustration on both sides. Unfortunately, even if everyone approaches localisation with the best of intentions, there’s just not always enough time for regular feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer is constantly optimising the feedback process. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to suggest changes without interrupting the flow of their work. And the key to that is automation, for example through tracking changes in the CAT tool (Computer Assisted Translation tool) or using a program that calculates a translation quality score.

Besides the individual feedback, our customer also regularly provides general feedback to all translators, either via a file sharing platform or in online meetings. This is ideal for discussing stylistic preferences and commonly seen errors, and to get everyone on the same page.

The value of localisation

Unfortunately, localisation has been an afterthought for some companies attempting to promote their products or services in different markets across the world. Maybe the thinking is that companies that want to go global just have to “walk the walk” (i.e. offer a product that does the job) and don’t need to “talk the talk” locally. So not everyone approaches this task with a dedicated localisation team or understands why this would be important. As a consequence of translation being considered as not very important, translators struggle with lack of context, lack of contacts and lack of feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer’s localisation department really does a fantastic job. Not only are they fully aware of the importance of localisation, they have even developed their own internal strategy for promoting this as a value across the whole company. The localisation department enthusiastically coaches other departments on how successful localisation works and what the individual can do to help streamline these processes. This includes making the right decisions as to what content one actually needs to have translated, knowing which information needs to be included when submitting a translation request, and reviewing the localisation product after its completion.

Interestingly enough, the localisation department is considered to be central in the company. All departments liaise with this team in order to create a unified experience for customers in different markets across the world. The localisation department plays an important role in this company—and as a result they very successfully attract new customers through their localised content. Put two and two together and you see how important a dedicated localisation team really is.

A final thought

Translators don’t often get the chance to spend a whole week with a customer. Luckily, our customer made this decision to try something quite daring and allow us to get to know them in a completely new and more personal way. This experience was hugely beneficial to the relationship between the customer and us as translators. And I think it doesn’t stop there. We experienced a new relationship model for translators, their MLVs (multi-lingual vendors) and the companies they translate for, and can use this as a blueprint for promoting transparency and open communication channels in future relationships. I hope that by sharing my experience in this post, I was able to convey some of the real benefits of this approach to localisation.

German new orthography

Changes to the German orthography rules

As translators, we like to keep up to date with new developments around all things language. After all, we have a responsibility to know the tools of our trade. It’s no surprise then that here at AJT, we were excited to hear that the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung (Council for German Orthography) recently published a revised version of the German orthography rules.


The Rat is an international committee that observes how German is used across several German-speaking countries, and publishes authoritative rules based on its observations. This year, the Rat shared the following new insights into the contemporary use of German.


The big star of the revised rules is the Eszett (ß). I’m stressing “big” here, since officially, up until now, the ß was an exclusively lower case letter. From now on, writers have the option to use the all new capital ẞ.

The ß is a letter that you won’t really have come across unless you read and write German. Here is an example of how, when and why we use it:

  • floss = past tense of fließen (to flow)
  • Floß = raft

The “o” in example 1) is short, because it is followed by two “s”. “floss” is pronounced just like in “candy floss”.

The “o” in example 2) is long, because it is followed by “ß”.

You might wonder what we did in the past, when we had to write a capital ß? We just used double S. This was not ideal. After all, as examples 1) and 2) above show, writing “ss” or “ß” may not only change a word’s pronunciation, it can also change its meaning.

From an administrative point of view, there was another issue: On official IDs, names are often written in all caps. So anyone with an ß in their name would regularly see their name changed, as the Eszett was replaced by two S. According to his ID, Herr Groß would then officially be Herr GROSS.

Quick tip: The Unicode Standard for the capital ẞ is U+1E9E.


The second batch of changes concerns certain words borrowed from other languages:

a) A couple of words were removed from the Rat’s word index. These are words for which either the original spelling or the Germanised spelling were acceptable. It used to be ok to write:

“Ketschup” and “Ketchup”, or

“Majonäse” and “Mayonnaise”.

Today you may only eat your “Pommes” with “Ketchup” and “Mayonnaise”.

b) A couple of variants now enjoy the same status as the existing official spellings:

“Canapé” and “Kanapee”

“Entrée” and “Entree”

“Soirée” and “Soiree”

c) Some spellings that were only officially accepted in some countries, have been accepted for general use:

“Buffet” and “Büffet”

“Casino” and “Kasino”


By default, the first letter of German adjectives is lower case. Nowadays, it is quite common to capitalise adjectives in order to stress this first part of a collocation. It’s a simple way of highlighting that there is more to a collocation than meets the eye.

The revised rules describe in which instances the adjective should be lower case or start with a capital letter and when it can either be lower case or start with a capital letter.


These are the main changes that the Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung is offering up to writers of German. Now it’s our turn to decide if and how we want to implement these revised rules. Are we making a clean cut with the double S to permanently switch to the capital ẞ? Do we favour a “Soirée” at the “Casino” or an “Entree” from the “Büffet”? As always, it will be interesting to see how – based on our choices – the German language will change its appearance in the future. We’ll keep an eye out for you!

Sources: (Orthography rules including the changes, in German) (Word index including the changes, in German) (Press release, in German) (Report about the changes, in German)


New Smartling CAT tool

Top 5 features we love about the new Smartling CAT tool

We are getting excited! Over the coming days and weeks, Smartling will be releasing their new and improved translation interface, which promises to increase translator productivity (so you can translate faster), improve translation quality (using comprehensive QA checks) and add some serious flexibility (by allowing you to customise shortcuts to your liking).

Here are five of our favourite features that we love about the new CAT tool:

1) Draft mode (never lose your translations again)

In the new interface, strings are shown in a table format (rather than displaying strings individually). This new layout makes it possible to translate and edit without immediately having to save your translation in order to progress to the next string. This is a nice feature allowing you to draft your translation and revise it before submitting it to the translation memory. But what happens when your internet connection is bit erratic or your browser decides to close down unexpectedly? Good news: translations are automatically saved in your browser cache, so if your internet, browser or laptop decide to have a meltdown, your work won’t be lost – if you reopen your browser and log back in, your work will still be there!

2) QA check

With the new CAT tool, Smartling will be introducing a very robust Quality Assurance (QA) check which is bound to massively reduce ‘mechanical’ translation errors. For the initial launch, the QA check will cover 5 error types (spellchecker, leading and trailing spaces, double spaces, missing placeholder and missing tags) but in the coming weeks, another 30 error types will be added!

3) Concordance search

Smartling already has a great concordance search, meaning you can search for a particular word or phrase in the translation memory simply by highlighting the source text and clicking on the magnifying glass. In the new version of the CAT tool, it will be possible to insert a concordance match directly into the translation memory – a great time saver!

4) Customisable shortcuts

The entire new translation interface is ‘pimped’ with shortcuts so that you hardly have to use your mouse at all during the translation process. But for those of you who are used to working in offline CAT tools like Trados, you don’t have to worry about learning new shortcuts, you can simply select the shortcuts from the tool you are used to working with. And you can even create your own shortcuts so that you can customise your ‘workspace’ just how you like it.

5) Tags

Traditionally, Smartling used to avoid the use of tags altogether in their translation interface by splitting strings that require formatting or contain links into several segments. In the new version of the CAT tool, Smartling will instead be introducing tags similar to traditional CAT tools like Trados. If like me, your palms are getting sweaty at the mere thought of using clunky tags, fear not, because tags in Smartling are a far cry from the traditional ‘tag soup’. Just for starters, tags are automatically inserted as pairs, so if you delete one of the tags in a pair, both automatically get deleted – no more trawling through translations checking and searching for missing tags. You can use a shortcut to insert a tag and then cycle through all available tag pairs to insert the one you need. But the icing on the cake is that you can toggle between a ‘simple view’ which shows tags as numbers and a ‘code view’ which shows you what a tag actually stands for. This is particularly useful for link text. Although it was previously possible in Smartling to see the formatting behind tags in the code tab in the translation interface, the same information is now available right inside the translation field, which greatly reduces the amount of time spent flitting between different parts of the screen.

If you regularly translate on the Smartling platform, now is the time to register for one of the many webinars that Smartling are running in the run-up to their release. Learn about the new layout, features and shortcuts so you can transition smoothly from the current to the new interface when the time comes.

Read more about the new Smarling CAT tool and register for a live webinar if you haven’t already attended one.

machine translation in tourism marketing

Machine translation in tourism marketing: The difference between giving information and selling a service

Last week, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of the new direct flight connection between Newquay and Alicante. As I was waiting by the check-in desk, I spotted this German leaflet from Coastline Travel:

machine translation in tourism marketing

I was really excited and proud to see that a Cornish business has gone to the trouble of providing a German leaflet. However, to anyone who knows the German language, it’s immediately obvious that this is a machine translation. It is littered with grammatical errors, nonsensical words and typos. As a professional translator, my immediate reaction was to cringe at the poor quality of the translation, particularly because it would have cost very little to translate this small flyer professionally.

But then I asked myself: does the flyer do the trick? And in all honesty, yes it does. Despite the poor German, I could understand the gist of what was being offered and how to go about booking transport. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be perfectly fine to use machine translation like Google Translate to translate all marketing material for your tourism business into other languages? Well, it depends entirely on the context of where the translation appears and what it is you want to achieve.

The bare bones: providing information for your guests

Let’s take another look at the Coastline Travel leaflet: The aim of the flyer is to attract the attention of German tourists who have just landed at Newquay Airport. They are most likely looking for transport from the airport to their accommodation, so they are ready to buy. This is less of a hard sell and more about letting the new arrivals know what it is Coastline Travel offers. It’s about providing information. When we ourselves go on holiday to other countries, we don’t necessarily expect to go to a restaurant and expect a flawless menu in our own mother tongue. As long as we roughly know what it is that we’re about to eat, we’re happy, right? The same goes with informational signage around city centres or information about WiFi or laundry services at hotel receptions. As long as we get the gist, we are content. It doesn’t mean that machine translation is good practice (after all, any type of corporate communication should reflect your business, your brand, in the right light). But in these very specific contexts, where the customers are already there right in front of you – ready to buy – providing a translation (of sorts) can help to bridge the language gap.

Beyond giving information: selling your product or service

But is that, in reality, all you are trying to achieve? Bridging the language gap? Or are you in fact translating this information not just to provide information, but to sell a service/product? Going back to the restaurant menu for a moment, there is a big difference between ordering ‘pork with chips’ and ordering ‘tender medallions of succulent pork with hand-cut, Cajun seasoned chips’. You end up with the same food on your plate but one description conjures up mouth-watering images of beautiful food and contributes to a wonderful dining experience (think good reviews, good tips, repeat custom), while the other one, well, doesn’t.

Particularly when it comes to selling higher-value services like accommodation and spa packages to overseas visitors who book before they set foot on Cornish ground, it’s not enough to just tell them what you have to offer in the most rudimentary form. Using machine translation for your website, for example, is like saying ‘Me hotel, you guest. Here come, pay this much, I bed for you provide.’

When searching online, overseas visitors have a plethora of accommodation options to choose from. As a marketing manager, it is your job to make sure they understand your value proposition – you need them to WANT to stay at your hotel and convert those web visits into booked rooms. And that’s the difference right there. Machine translation brings across information (sometimes). Professional translation helps you to actually sell your product or service.

Did you know that people are six times less likely to purchase from websites that are not presented in their own mother tongue? If you would like to find out more about affordable translation options for your tourism business, please get in touch for a chat and a free quote. We provide a wide range of tourism translation services, including website translation, multi-lingual social media as well as print media like brochures and welcome packs. For some examples of our work, read on to find out how we’ve helped St Michael’s Mount, Newquay BID and Cornish Cycle Tours to connect with overseas visitors.

Not sure if you should be translating anything at all? To get you started, take a look at our bog Marketing translation: the cost of (not) translating your brand.


Grammatically speaking: Different approaches to grammar

When it comes to communicating with each other, grammar plays a role of the utmost importance; without grammar, we would be unable to construct intelligible sentences. However, as an active part of any language, grammar is bound to evolve with time, and not everyone experiences this change in the same way. Find out if you side with prescriptivists or descriptivists.


Whose side are you on?

Imagine you are queuing in a supermarket, and you notice a sign above the till that reads “10 items or less” (instead of “fewer”, which, as English grammar books will tell you, should be applied for quantifiable, or countable, objects).

Now, if reading that sign made you want to throw your groceries out of the window, chances are you have prescriptive views. Linguistic prescription (or prescriptivism) is the idea according to which a language should have one proper form, with an established set of rules that should not be transgressed, neither in writing nor in speaking. In the eyes of prescriptivists, breaking these rules equals being in the wrong. A few centuries ago, when writing started gaining importance as a means of communication, a standardised language had to be created, as a way for people in different parts of a country to understand each other. Unsurprisingly, the language used by people in power, or high in society, was the one chosen to fulfil this role. With time, it became recognised as the “proper” language: linguistic prescription was born.

If, on the other hand, the admittedly incorrect sign doesn’t bother you, you are most likely to be a descriptivist. Indeed, descriptive linguistics, as the name indicates, describes language phenomena rather than advocating them. Descriptivists recognise the fact that language belongs to its speakers, and that it is bound to change: they believe content is more important than form when it comes to sharing information. In other words, as long as the person you are speaking to can understand you, proper use of grammar is not of prime importance. To descriptivists, breaking the rules is simply evolution.

So in the end, who’s right?

Although it might seem that the two schools of thought contradict each other, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and we need both of them in order to study linguistics as well as to learn new languages. According to the web-based publication Ethnologue, there were as many as 942 million English speakers in the world in 2015, but only a little over one third were native speakers! The remaining 600 million are scattered across hundreds of countries, with their own culture, references, and accents, which inevitably get incorporated into the way English is spoken and written. Hundreds, if not thousands of different world Englishes exist, and descriptivism studies all of them as an observer.

However, in terms of language learning, prescription has the advantage of creating a standardised language, even if it does get renewed every so often – let’s consider the fact that the proper spelling of “bird” was “brid” in Old English. This standardisation not only makes communication a lot easier when travelling to other countries, it has also allowed English to become the “Lingua Franca” in most countries, meaning it is the language the most widely used between speakers from different countries.

Which school should translators choose?

As a marketing translator, the best choices come from observation. The grammar used by your client reflects their personality, their brand, and they want all of their customers to experience this brand in the same way, no matter which language they speak. However, what could be acceptable in one language is not necessarily acceptable in another. It is thus very important to adapt the tone and grammar in the target language. Read their content carefully and ask yourself, “Do they use abbreviations? Are they making up words to suit their products?” If so, you can feel free to be creative in your target language if it sounds acceptable. If not, always think about you own experience as a customer to think about what your target audience might expect from this brand.

Always remember, choosing words is like choosing an outfit. Do not translate a suit into shorts and flip-flops!


Translating voices: Subtitling

In the second part of our Translating Voices mini-series, we take a look at the exciting world of subtitling.

For many of us, subtitles play a massive role in our daily lives. We make use of them on the big screen, small screen and online, whilst watching a diverse range of genres in different languages to our own. These on-screen translations serve the important purpose of recounting to us, in a digestible way, all the foreign-language elements we are encountering in our selected programme. Mainly this is of course the dialogue of the characters or speakers, but subtitles also importantly provide a translation for any on-screen text (names of buildings, graffiti, the list goes on), and also often for the soundtrack. Any subtitler will tell you that subtitling a film or television series is no easy feat, so what are the specificities of this method of localising audiovisual content?

The two restrictions of subtitling

The subtitler is often said to be subject to two big restrictions in their work, and these are the temporal and spatial limitations they face. Crucially, subtitles must be timed to sync with the speaker and to the natural breaks in their utterances, which are of course heard loud and clear at the same time as we are reading them. This proves difficult as words are most often spoken much faster than they can be written on-screen. Add to this the tight spatial limitation – the fact that each subtitle must contain no more than 35 characters per line – and you can see the type of challenge subtitlers face, especially those translating into the more “flowery” languages or languages with particularly long words such as German. On top of this, subtitles must also be perfectly timed to appear and disappear in time with shot changes (as this ensures a smoother viewing experience for the audience). It goes without saying that these restrictions have a great bearing on the translational decisions the subtitler must make.

The subtitling status quo

While we will go into more detail about the challenges the subtitler faces in our next Translating Voices post, for now it is worth pointing out that with all the skilled subtitlers’ will in the world, subtitling is not a localisation mode that is universally adored. Subtitled films and programmes are found to varying degrees across Europe, one of two major forms of localising audiovisual content alongside the popular dubbing localisation method. Whether a country favours subtitling or dubbing is often dependant on local customs and history. So what is the current status quo in subtitling today?

In Scandinavian countries not an hour goes by when subtitled programmes are not in the television viewing schedules. Absolutely everything is subtitled and very little is dubbed. This is also the case in countries with multiple languages, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, where subtitling means that different languages can be displayed on-screen simultaneously. It is a different state of affairs in Germany and Spain, which are traditionally dubbing countries, rooted in a long history of the practice. Of course, some content is subtitled where budgets do not lend themselves to the dubbing process, but overall dubbing is the prevalent method. And then we come to countries where learning foreign languages is not high on the priority list – such as the UK and the US – where often watching subtitled programmes can feel like a bit of a chore. In these demanding markets, film and television creators sometimes even lean towards full-on adaptations and remakes of foreign content.

Subtitling and dubbing: a comparison

Now that we know a little about the status quo, just how does subtitling compare to dubbing – its main competitor -as a localisation option?

  • Subtitling is much cheaper than dubbing – some say up to 15 times cheaper
  • It is also a process that takes far less time and typically involves fewer people
  • Subtitling is generally seen as more loyal than dubbing, making it arguably the best option for showcasing auteur directors’ individuality and style
  • Subtitling is a good option for more informative texts where budgets may not be so high and there is a clear message to convey
  • Subtitling is often a successful method for fast-paced action films, although many argue that dubbing is a better option for this genre

Stemming from the days of silent movies, where written text would appear between shots to guide the audience, subtitling certainly has come a long way and has quite a history. In an ever more globalised world, the future of subtitling looks bright, although it does of course go without saying that there will be continued competition with other localisation methods. For those wanting to get into subtitling, be prepared for an exciting challenge.

In the next instalment we take a look at a day in the life of the audiovisual translator, looking in more depth at how they approach a subtitling translation task. Not to be missed!

To read last week’s instalment of Translating Voices, all about the world of dubbing and voice over, click here.


Introducing Noreen, our translation intern for the summer

We are today extending a very warm welcome to our translation intern Noreen, who will be joining us over the summer months.

Originally from Lille, France, Noreen is half-way through a 2-year Masters in Translation at the University of Lille. She is pleased to be back in the UK, where she feels right at home, having previously lived and studied in Worcester and Birmingham.

Noreen is a creative soul with a real interest in all things audiovisual and also a love for literary translation. She is a keen writer and has even written and recited her own poetry – we hope there may be an ode to Newquay in the pipeline!

Though she only arrived yesterday, Noreen has already noted how similar Cornwall is to the beautiful region of Brittany in France, where her mother grew up, and cannot wait to get out and explore.

Noreen is very much looking forward to the next two months, and is keen to get more acquainted with the various translation software we use, and to get to know in more depth how agencies are run on a day-to-day basis.


Translating voices: Dubbing and voice over

In our new translating voices mini-series, we take a look at the audiovisual translation world, focusing on dubbing, voice over and later subtitling, to learn more about the specificities of this exciting field of translation.

Whatever country we live in, the hard graft of many audiovisual translators, who specialise in translating the on-screen voice, is making its way into our living rooms and our lives. In a lot of countries, such as Spain and France, it’s no secret that we’re listening to their work pretty much on  a daily basis, in the form of the dubbed TV programmes and films that make up part and parcel of national viewing habits. Aside from this, however, we’re also listening to audiovisual translations in the form of voice over. Dubbing may tend to hog the audiovisual translation limelight when it comes to revoicing audiovisual material, but voice over, which is different on many levels, also plays an important role in our lives. So what exactly is dubbing, and what is voice over?

These two methods of reversioning audiovisual material are actually quite distinct from one another, in three main ways: how they sound, the type of content they are used for, and the translation priorities they require.

  1. How they sound

In dubbing – and particularly lip-sync dubbing – the spoken audio of the original film or television programme is stripped away, to be entirely replaced by the new, reversioned audio, which through various methods is designed to look and sound like it were the original, and NOT a translation at all.

Conversely, with voice over, and in particular the common UN-style voice over, the emphasis is entirely different. The purpose is to relay clearly to the new audience what is being said by the original speaker – the voice over serves as an aid, much like an interpreter does. The fact that it is a translation is no secret but is instead paraded loud and clear: the viewer is listening to the original at the same time as the new version, hearing just the original speaker for a second or two (to help them absorb the tone), before the translation comes in.

Another way in which the two methods sound very different is that with dubbing, for each actor in the original, a different voice actor (with similar voice traits) is heard. With voice over, however, often the same voice will be used for all speakers. This is not always the case, though – sometimes a few different voices are used, for example, one voice-over artist for narration, one for all female voices and one for all male voices.

  1. The type of content they are used for

The reason dubbing is the most renowned type of revoicing is because it is most often used for entertainment content and big-budget films. Many of these are English-language, Hollywood films, although of course this is not always the case. In countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, dubbing is the go-to method for all entertainment films – be it comedy, horror or action — however in countries that traditionally use subtitling, such as many Nordic countries, it is often down to the production team to decide if dubbing or subtitling will be used for such content.

UN-style voice over, on the other hand, is hardly ever used for entertainment content (although there are instances of this working, for example in Poland where programmes such as Friends are not dubbed, but have voice over instead, which is all voiced by one artist). Instead, the fact that voice over allows the viewer to hear the translation over the original makes it a good method for translating foreign audio in documentaries and interviews, and this is where we most often experience UN-style voice-over translation. It is also used a lot in corporate videos and online videos that are more informative in nature.

  1. Their translation priorities

With both dubbing and voice over, the translator has to work with tight space limitations – as with both forms of revoicing the translation needs to fit squarely into the time it takes for the original speaker to make their utterance. But with lip-sync dubbing, there is an extra component, as the new translation also has to sync to the mouth movements of the speaker. This means that the dubbing translator needs to watch each utterance very closely, noting down mouth shapes and translating very closely according to these. They are granted quite a bit of freedom because of this priority, and, though loyalty to the original is important to some extent, dubbing translators move away from the source to ensure synchronisation with the image.

In contrast, the voice-over translator is not really justified in moving away from the source. Voice over’s raison d’être is to bring across loud and clear the words of the original speaker, and this is what the viewer comes to expect. Imagine, for instance, a presidential speech on a news programme where the translator has taken liberties to alter the speech, or a company training video where the words of the CEO are altered. Of course, in the interests of keeping to the space limitations mentioned above, the translator needs to carefully choose to remove any words which are unnecessary or superfluous, and also needs to ensure that the translation reads smoothly, but the overall priority is certainly one of fidelity.

To sum up, then, it would seem that when it comes to revoicing, dubbing has the more creative, adaptable edge, and voice over is the more loyal, serious, and straight-and-narrow one in the relationship.


In the next installment of the translating voices mini-series, we take a look at the subtitling industry – stay tuned!

Marketing translation and return on investment

Marketing translation: the cost of (not) translating your brand

As modern consumers, we are constantly inundated with information. The rapid adoption of mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and wearable tech, coupled with an increasingly reliable internet connection on the go, means that we are rarely off the grid. Digital content is coming at us from all angles and as a result, we have become very good at the art of ‘extreme skim reading’. As we try not to drown in content, we are learning to filter out anything that isn’t 100% relevant to us. We simply don’t have the time anymore to invest in reading something – anything – unless we feel that we really get something out of it. And we make that judgment call with lightning speed. In today’s fast-paced, content-rich world, 10 seconds is like a lifetime. So when your potential customer is reading your text (in whichever format you have delivered it, be it an email, a promoted Facebook post, your website, a Google Ad), you need to make it count.

When you create your English marketing materials, you have got it covered – you know exactly what works and you create bespoke messaging for your English-speaking target audience. But as your business starts to grow and you enter new markets for the first time, how will your English copy fare? Many international companies work with an ‘English first’ content strategy, where marketing content is first created in English (most often the company’s business language) and subsequently translated into other languages. In the beginning, a marketing translation is often more cost-effective and easier to manage and implement than engaging with content creators and marketing agencies in the new target markets.

In the translation industry, professionals often talk about localisation. The essence of localisation is to make the translated text as relevant as possible to readers in the target language. The aim is to speak to the reader in such a way that he/she wouldn’t even realise that the text is a translation. Why? There are two reasons:

Number 1: Familiarity

We tend to feel safer buying from a company who speaks the same language as us and who shares the same cultural values as us. In an e-commerce context, consumers face a lot of uncertainties when buying products or services from another country, so it’s only natural that they would be somewhat more sceptical about a foreign company. Is it safe to pay with my credit card on this website? What’s the return policy? What are my legal rights buying products from another country? Most companies will have all of this information very clearly laid on their website but your potential customer hasn’t even got that far yet. When he/she first interacts with your content, you want them to feel like they are in safe hands.

Number 2: Avoiding unnecessary distractions

You need to eliminate any elements that will cause your reader to pause unnecessarily, anything that will distract them from your core marketing message. For example, if you are only displaying prices in USD on your website, a German reader would have to convert the prices into EUR to understand if it’s a good deal or not. This means stopping, calculating in one’s head or checking on a currency conversion website. By that time, your prospect may already have lost interest (or simple hasn’t got the time) and has moved on.

In a world where people’s attention span is shorter than the time it takes to say ‘content marketing’, every interaction with your potential customers, however fleeting, must be interesting and inspire confidence in your brand. So when you get your marketing materials translated from English into another language, you need to get it right from the start. Of course, entering a new market is always associated with costs, including the cost of translation. But investing in a high-quality marketing translation is your best bet to ensure that your translated marketing copy will really resonate with your target audience, and that you will see a faster return on your investment in translation. In the end, it boils down to simple maths:


the cost of (not) translating your marketing content