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Written by Steven Bussey
on March 04, 2022

We're probably all familiar with the concept of Garbage in Garbage Out. The idea, which originated in computer science, says that the quality of the information coming out can never be better than the quality of information going in.

The GIGO concept also applies to translations. When a company wants to translate documents or audio from English into another language, it must pay careful attention to the English used in the source document. When companies control the English in the source document, they gain efficiencies and accuracies in the translation process.

Table of Contents 

  1. Control Phraseology
  2. Avoid Idioms
  3. Avoid the suffix "ing."
  4. Use plain language
  5. Avoid terminology
  6. Be consistent
  7. Why is controlled English essential?
  8. Future content leverage
  9. Retaining Information
  10. Key Takeaways

Control Phraseology

One way to control the English used is to pay attention to phraseology. The smart author will write with ease of translation in mind. Some common English expressions are difficult to translate.


Avoid Idioms

Idioms really work only in the location where they originate. In fact, they aren't even interchangeable in different regions that speak a common language. They don't translate well because translators translate them literally when they are meant to be read figuratively. For example, an American idiom is "bite the bullet," which means finally doing something you've been dreading and avoiding. A translator might render it as someone chewing or biting down on a bullet.


Avoid the suffix "ing."

English-speaking writers often use words that end in "ing," including gerunds, adjectives, and nouns. These words can confuse machine translators. For example, "When I arrive, I will be greeted by my smiling mother" would be more easily translated if it were rendered, "When I arrive, my mother will greet me with a smile."


Use plain language

Plain language is written so that the audience understands it easily. If the audience can easily understand it, the translator will, too. Techniques for writing in plain language include:

  • Use "you" and other pronouns
  • Use active voice instead of passive; for example, "I drove the red car" instead of "The red car was driven by me."
  • Shorten sentences. A study by the American Press Institute found that readers understood all of a document when sentences were eight words or shorter. At 14 words, readers understood 90 percent, but at 43 words, readers understood less than 10 percent. A United Kingdom government blog says its agencies limit sentences to no more than 25 words.
  • Shorten paragraphs
  • Use common, everyday words and avoid jargon and complex terms

Avoid terminology

Terminology, by its nature, is understood only by a small group of people. Companies can train machine translation engines with the terminology used in specific fields to make translation efficient. However, if the company then needs to use the MT in another industry, the terminology will be different. If possible, the source document should avoid specialized terminology unless the writer is sure the translator knows that terminology.


Be consistent

Synonyms add variety to a text, but they are not translation friendly. They consistently used the same term to refer to a concept that improves translation quality and comprehension.


Why is controlled English essential?

Writing in controlled English is essential for making immediate translation easier, more efficient, and more accurate. However, it is also vital for leveraging content for future translation. The use of controlled English also helps readers retain information.


Future content leverage

If a company's team writes all its documents in controlled English, it can more easily build a translation memory. Translation memory is a database that stores phrases, words, and simple sentences that previously have been translated. A translation memory saves time and money by applying these phrases to future translation jobs. It also can improve translation consistency because the same phrases will always be translated the same way.

Controlled English also aids in improving the quality and efficiency of Machine Translation (MT). Human translators will spend less time editing these translations and have more time available for documents that are not routine and require special care.

Because the use of controlled English enables more efficient translations, it also can expedite entry into a new market or the release of a new product. The use of controlled English is particularly important in industries that do a high volume of translations, such as Ecommerce, retail, hospitality and online travel, and help systems.


Retaining Information

Plain language documents improve the ability of readings to understand and retain information. A Toronto-based company studied the business impact of introducing plain language at a financial services company. The study showed that shifting to plain language improved the workers' ability to "find, understand and use" the information required for their jobs. It also showed that employee errors decreased by 77 percent. The employee group that used the plain-language documents also were 61.2 percent happier with the documents than the group that used the original ones.


Key Takeaways

  • Controlling the phraseology used in English documents can improve the efficiency and accuracy of translations.
  • The use of controlled English also can help companies build translation memory and make MT more accurate.
  • Readers are more satisfied with plain-language documents and retain more information than from documents that are more difficult to read.

Andovar is a niche, media-focused localization agency with global presence. We help enterprise companies, games developers, eLearning, HR & training, technology (Software and Apps), MarCom, Ecommerce, and media-focused organizations deliver media-rich global content to users, fans, clients, and employees across the globe. We have a team of 5,000 translators and have translated more than 1 billion words.

We begin each project by listening to our clients' needs and developing the right solution for them. Fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation with one of our translation experts.


Contact Andovar

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