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Written by Steven Bussey
on April 12, 2021

Suppose your company's board of directors meets. You are considering undertaking a new project, but the board would like a ballpark estimate of the costs. The board decides to table discussion on the project until the estimate is received. 

Now, the board meeting is over, and you'd like to translate the text describing this action into other languages so that board members from around the world can have a record of the meeting. The challenge, however, is that all the phrases used in this American English description won't translate well. The idioms "ballpark estimate" and "table" discussion are really understood only by those who live in the United States, where baseball is played. In fact, "tabling" an item means postponing discussion in the United States, but means to actively discuss the item in the United Kingdom.

The key, then, to obtaining an accurate professional translation of a text is to write it in a certain way in the first place. Here are some tips:


Avoid Idioms

Idioms really only work in the location where they originate. They are likely to be translated literally, which will confuse. Beating a dead horse, biting the bullet, beating around the bush, biting off more than you can chew - you get the point.


Avoid Humor

What's funny in one culture may not be funny in another. Worse, the same joke or story might even be offensive in the other language. If humor is critical to your brand image, consider using transcreation services that will use the same style and tone but in another language and for an audience in another culture. 


Keep Sentences Brief and Basic

Sentences with 20 words or fewer translate the easiest. Consider how to communicate a thought as succinctly and simply as possible. Aim for standard word order when possible. That means a subject, verb, and direct object with their modifiers next to them.  It also means using active voice rather than passive voice. For example, "This new product helps allergy sufferers" rather than "Allergy sufferers receive help from this new product."


Use Consistent Terminology

While synonyms add variety to a text, they are not translation-friendly. To obtain the best translation, always use the same term to identify a specific concept.


Be Clear With Dates

Dates are expressed differently across the world. Some countries typically put the month first, followed by day and year, while other countries put the day first and then the month and year. Because of these differences, confusion ensues with constructions such as 9/5/2022. Some countries will interpret that as of September 5, 2022, while others will interpret it as May 9, 2022. Spelling out the month is the safest way to avoid confusion.


Avoid Acronyms

Spell out the full name of each organization. Remember that the organization's name may not necessarily be translated with the same first letters in each language. 


Avoid Negatives

Negatives can be mistranslated easily. Rather than saying, "Don't you think this works well?" consider saying, "This works well, right?"


Leave Words That Promote Clarity

Often we eliminate certain words such as "that," "which," and "a or "the" if we feel they are unnecessary. When writing for translation, however, these words often help eliminate confusion. For example, say, "The ground beef that we bought yesterday will expire soon" rather than "the ground beef we bought yesterday will expire soon."


Avoid Multiple-Word Verbs

Verbs with two or three words tend to complicate translations. While we might say informally, "I ran into a friend last night," we would write "I met a friend last night" to avoid confusion.


Avoid "-ing"

In English, we use the suffix "ing" in various ways, including adjectives, gerunds, and nouns. A non-native English speaker may try to translate all of them similarly, which can lead to confusion. If possible, rewrite phrases that use words with "ing suffixes. For example, "I am skipping to school" would be more easily translated if it read "I skip to school."  Or, "When you disembark, you will be met by a smiling Mary" would be better written as "When you disembark, Mary will greet you with a smile."



Most countries in the world use the metric system. Consider carefully in which countries your text will appear and the measurement system they use. If in doubt, use the metric system.


Use Images When Possible

A photo or graphic may clear up any confusion; after all they do say 'a picture paints a thousand words'!


Leave Plenty of White Space

English text is typically shorter than the same text written in other languages. Words themselves are longer, as are sentences, which makes for an overall text that may be as much as 35 percent longer. If you've not left space for the longer text, chaos will ensue when the translations have to be replaced in a document or video.


Plan Ahead

With careful planning, you can write text that is clear and translates easily into other languages. This will allow for more machine translation rather than human translation, which will save you money. It also will ensure your message comes across clearly in any language.


Andovar Offers Customized Translations and Localization Support

Choose Andovar when you need translations that help you grow your global community of users and customers. From elearning to ecommerce, we work with numerous industries to provide marketing support in targeted regions. We also offer dubbing, voiceover and translations for apps in our extensive portfolio of services.

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