Category: For Language Lovers

What is a translation style guide and why is it important?

Has your translator ever asked you: “Do you have a style guide?”

And you wonder: What is a translation style guide? Why do I need it?

If you are building an international marketing strategy to expand your customer base, you need to communicate your unique brand identity to connect with potential consumers in new markets.

A successful international campaign means the consistency of your message across all channels. This in turn means the same tone of voice in any other language as your source language and local markets.

A translation style guide is a set of guidelines which outline your company’s preferred tone, register, and style to be used in translation. It is important because your translated content should match the way your company presents itself textually, but also visually. A professional translator should discuss your preferences with you at the start of the project as this is part of their essential research and preparation that you pay for. (You can read more about what the translation service includes here.)

Let’s see what a style guide includes and what the benefits are.

What do you need to include in a style guide?

1. Target audience

Firstly, tell us who will be reading this content. Think about your audience and the type of users.  What are their interests, age, education level, lifestyle indicators? What is their purpose when they use your product or content?

Are they university professors, customers installing their websites on your hosting servers or gaming users?

Established law firms or tech start-ups?

Will your content be consumed in a corporate boardroom or a school classroom?

2. Tone of voice

Every brand has its own unique tone of voice corresponding to its values. This voice has to come across in your translated copy.

Facebook, for example, uses a straightforward, conversational tone in all of its writing. And if you publish on Facebook, you write in an informal, playful, and engaging tone of voice, and aim to be personable, friendly, and even humorous.

Note these things in the translation style guide and use plenty of examples from your existing publications:

  • Do you want formal or informal language?
  • Do you prefer active or passive voice?
  • What about colloquial expressions, jargon or even slang?
  • Do you use inclusive forms of language, such as choice of pronouns (they), or forms of address (Mr, Ms, Mx)?
  • If the content is going to be published on social media, which ones? (see the comment above about Facebook)
  • If the content is for your website, what forms do you use in your CTA buttons? The imperative form? (“Upload file”, “Contact us today”.) Or more descriptive infinitive form? (“To subscribe, click on X”.) Also bear in mind that the CTA buttons will be localised. For example: in the American culture they tend to be more direct that in the French culture, where “Contact me today!” style of button may be perceived as too aggressive.

3. Formatting preferences

The translation guide is the right place to share the preferred formatting or punctuation. You should include preferences about the use of:

  • spelling locale (think US and British English)
  • acronyms or abbreviations,
  • capitalisation of bullet points,
  • use of punctuation in bullet points and after units of measure,
  • favourite fonts.

Specify units of measure, currencies, addresses, phone numbers, and any words that should not be translated. Typically, these will include website names, branded names, usernames or email addresses.

4. General brand style guides

If you have these, do not hesitate to share them with your translator. They provide us with essential and invaluable insight into your company’s personality, vision, and core values, and tell us how you wish to communicate them in your new language markets. Applying these guidelines in your multilingual content will avoid the fracturing of your brand’s message in any way.

brand-vision-and-guidelines

Terminology glossaries

Consistent and clear terminology is a key factor in your public persona, or that of your clients. Terminology glossaries are databases of key terms that must be translated consistently or not at all. Choose terms that are business-critical words used by your industry and your own, company-specific ones (e.g., your copyrighted or trademarked terms that should not be translated). Also consider audience-specific words to ensure relevance and engagement. For example, vegans like to use slang words such as “Buddha bowl” and “flegg”. Gaming fans read about “RendeZook” or “scratch damage”.

If you do not yet have a single term base, the translator can help you with this task. Using professional tools such as SDL Trados Multiterm, we can import your existing file and consolidate, clean and manage the data for the future.

Should you use both glossaries and style guides?

Terminology glossaries are important tools for industry relevance and the consistency of terms and product names. Your localisation expert will use their linguistic skill, cultural awareness and your translation style guides as a reference point to decide how best to address your audience. As a result, your translated content will resonate with consumers the way you wanted it to.

Why should you invest in a translation style guide?

A true investment – saving your time and money

Style guides are often neglected because they are viewed as time-consuming. They need the business to be acutely aware of its own unique branding style.

They are, however, a real time-saver during any localisation project. The guidelines will immediately answer standard translation questions and eliminate the need for lengthy and repetitive calls or email chains. You can get on with your job, whilst linguists can set about their task with your brand context and preferences already in mind. The guides will also remove the risk of linguists attempting to “guess” what your brand voice is from the existing content. 

The main causes of high translation costs include countless rounds of corrections or re-translating previously translated material, completed by another service provider. A translation style guide will help you eliminate costly mistakes, frustration, and disappointment during the international marketing process.

In conclusion, consider translation style guides as an investment that offers a great return for your business, allowing your international marketing strategies to reach their full potential.

Effective business communication in France (or how to avoid being another Emily in Paris)

Have you seen “Emily in Paris”? Did you find it funny, cringy or infuriating?

I must admit I found it rather funny. Yes, the clichés are lazy and the way they are used cruelly lacks nuance and subtlety. I am not offended, though. Like many other French Netflix users – tired and anxious under the second Covid lockdown this autumn – I binge-watched the entire Season 1 at the weekend purely to relax.

Paris is definitely shown as a white-washed postcard (where is its real ethnic diversity?), and far from its usual chaos. And the series’ obsession with infidelity in relationships is just sooooooooo over the top. Many things are also factually incorrect, such as smoking in offices (restricted in France since 1991, strictly forbidden since 2007).

Whether you loved it or hated it, the series is an interesting springboard to talk about cultural misunderstanding.

Obviously, you don’t want to be another Emily in Paris when you do business in France. She managed to ruffle a lot of feathers.

So, what should you do and what should you avoid?

Emily-in_Paris-in-the-bakery
(Netflix)

Here is my list of 12 tips for effective communication when doing business in France, whether you can speak fluent French or not:

  1. We love our language, but we also know how difficult it is, and we don’t expect everyone to speak it fluently. However, try to use the basic French words: “Bonjour”, “merci”, “au revoir”, “enchanté.e”, “pardon”. “Bonjour” is particularly important, whether you enter an office, a bakery or your hotel on the first night in Paris. (If you watched the series, do you remember Emily in the boulangerie? She doesn’t say “hello” or answer the baker’s greeting. This is a big cultural mistake, far more important than her mispronunciation of “pain au chocolat”. She might be smiley and sweet, but according to the French culture she is simply rude.) 🤦‍♀️
  2. You only say “Bonjour” once a day, the first time you meet a person. Remember this if you work with French colleagues or project partners. Repeating this word during the day may look like lack of respect (as if you forgot you met them earlier). If this happens to you, don’t panic, but present your excuses.
  3. Address your counterparts by “vous” if you communicate in French. The English “you” is both formal and informal, but the difference in French is crucial.
  4. We like to shake hands with colleagues every day, not just at first introduction (although Covid changed this a bit). Kissing on the cheeks is definitely only for close friends and family.
  5. When you introduce yourself and your company, do not boast or show off. Confidence means humility.
  6. Whether you sell a product or manage a project, be prepared to explain and justify your decisions or reasons. The French think of themselves as “Cartesians”. We like to know the reasons why your product is really the best, what value added it will bring to us, or why you took a decision (when you manage French people as part of your international team).
  7. Accept a different perception of time. A decision to buy from you may seem longer, and you can expect to have to visit your prospects more than once. In France people like to get to know their partners before they do business with them. More than just your product or service, they like to know YOU. It is a human-centred culture.
  8. “Stop eating. Have a cigarette”. This quote from Sylvie, Emily’s boss in the film, is total nonsense. Food and lunch are sacred. Business lunch is a great opportunity to get to know your business partners. Eating is a social moment to exchange, to debate and get to know each other. It is not a moment to talk about business, but to talk about yourself. Prepare topics to talk about. Culture, art, food and wine, or travel will be very welcome. You can also discuss private topics as they make you look more open.
  9. We have a saying about topics to avoid in a conversation: “Dieu, l’argent et la politique”. Religion and money are seen as very private matters. Never ask how much money people earn. Money flaunting is considered bad taste and nouveau riche. And politics can quickly become a very polarised debate, so avoid it.
  10. French people can spend considerable time in meetings (the time perception again!). They are occasions to exchange ideas and brainstorm new ones, so don’t expect that they will always lead to taking a decision right away. Also, avoid coming to a meeting with a fixed agenda.
  11. Opinions and critique are given indirectly. Instead of a “no” you might hear: “c’est compliqué”. It means “no”.
  12. Don’t overdo the enthusiasm. Oh, I can hear you say: a smile and a positive attitude are universal values! Unfortunately, in France, people who present their products or services with excessive smiling and enthusiasm, come across as perhaps not 100% honest or serious. So, I hate to say this, but… smile a bit less.
Paris-eiffel-tower

Need a conversation starter for your next trip to France?

Take a look at the photo of Paris above. I am sure you know the name of this river.  

But… do you?

Strictly speaking, Paris is situated on the river… Yonne!

Montereau-Fault-Yonne, south-east of Paris, is the point of confluence of the Seine and the Yonne. At this point the Seine has an average flow of 80 m3/sec for a drainage basin of 10,100 km2, and the Yonne has an average flow of 93 m3/sec for a drainage basin of 10,836 km2. So, according to the rules of hydrography, the Seine is the tributary of the Yonne. However, druid legends made the sources of the Seine sacred. Then Romans declared it a deity, which also served the purpose of asserting their power. And so, the name Seine won over the Yonne…

Something to talk about during your next business lunch in France! 😉

Enjoy!

Further reading

You can read more about intercultural understanding in my other publications:

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/elzbietadubois_culturalawareness-translation-culturalintelligence-activity-6729694195239452672-COXo

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/elzbietadubois_digitalmarketing-internationalmarketing-globalbusiness-activity-6727545419821330432-Mqnq

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/elzbietadubois_why-the-french-dont-show-excitement-activity-6647871536663412736-MY02

Context is everything when it comes to translation

If you ask a translator: “How do you say x in y language?”, their answer will likely be: “It depends on the context”. Context is everything when it comes to translation.

The market information

To make the most of your international content, provide your translator with as much context as possible!

Brief them with the following:

👉 Target audience: who are you talking to? (age, nationality/culture, interests, income, position, etc…)

👉 Tone: conversational or formal?

👉 Purpose: what’s your CTA (call to action)? What do you want your audience to do?

👉 Knowledge: how much does your audience know about your product/service or the subject matter?

Actually, you should think about these before you even start creating your content, and then make sure your translator knows them, too. That way they will be more likely to convey the same message and reinforce your brand identity.

UI strings

Whether it is an app, a website or software UI, the translator is often handed a list of strings in an Excel file with little or no context.

If the app is still in development, the translator cannot interact with it and will be clueless as to how to render the string in another language.

Context will speed up the translation process. Ideally we like to see screen shots of UI screens. However, if you really cannot provide these, could you insert a comment in that Excel file you sent to give context?

👉What does the string refer to: a button? an error message? a list item?

👉If it is an error message, what is it about?

👉Is it a placeholder or a variable?

👉Any character limit?

Here is an example:


err_InvldEmail

Enter a valid [&1]

This message displays if an email address is not entered. The following information will populate for this message: [&1] = email address.

🤔Without this additional detail, the translator will ask you: “Enter a valid what?”

English is a wonderfully concise language, and nouns have no gender. In French, the article “a” will vary (un / une) and the adjective must match the gender of the noun.

In this case, the client provided the context: the missing word in the string is “email address.” In French it is feminine (une adresse e-mail), so now we can appropriately translate the string, leaving the placeholder, and be assured that the article and adjective agree with the noun that will be dropped into the string later.

Translation: Entrez une [&1] valide.

Et voilà.

Textual context

Textual context is really key when translating from a concise language such as English. Homonyms and homographs are very frequent yet depending on the context will be translated into completely different words in other languages. Words such as home, book or turn are perfect examples:

Book a call with us OR read our free book?

A turn of events OR a turn of a page?

Home page OR work from home?

Another source of confusion can be the use of nouns to describe other nouns. A single colour ink cartridge can mean a cartridge with 4 colours built in one (a single cartridge that will print in colour) or 4 individual cartridges (a cartridge containing a single colour). A good translator will always ask questions to clarify the context and will as for any reference material, especially when it comes to specialised terminology.

Situational context

Situational context refers to the factors and circumstances from the real-world environment which are affecting meaning. This is what is currently making machine translation so difficult to implement: it is hard to replace humans and their ability to live through communicative exchanges in real life, because the situational context involves the reasons why something occurs, references to the social, political or economic nuances.

A classic example is the form of personal address (“you” in English).

Who is talking? A millennial or a 19th century book character?

With whom? A colleague, friend, a boss, a doctor or Le Président de la République?

Are they talking or writing?

Is this happening now or 50 years ago? 

When you adapt your product and your marketing campaigns to your target countries, you need to take into account their culture, traditions, and values.

Marketing experts will tell you that your specific message needs to get across to your audiences so that you can meet them where they’re at. The same is true for your international audience.

Work with a professional translator and localiser who will help you get your message across the borders.

And please: Provide your translator with context!

Old translator – young entrepreneur, or how I launched my independent translation business

Happy first birthday to edIT Translations!

A year ago, I took the plunge, took French leave 😉, jumped ship [insert your favourite image here] and became an independent business owner in translation, proofreading, editing and language coaching services. And what a journey it has been!

This time last year I was leaving a permanent job, which I was quite good at, but which also sucked all the energy and creativity out of me. Although my first freelance translation adventure had started back in 1994, I had to interrupt it and move to the UK for personal reasons. Luckily, I continued to use my language skills in my IT and educational roles. My inhouse roles included translation, software localisation, or proofreading of millions of words. Now back in France I run my own business again.

If, like me, you are a self-driven, self-motivated hustler, or you are frustrated with working for someone else, here are some thoughts on how I prepared and what I have learned before I launched my business and in the first year of its existence.

Stage 1: the side-hustle

Whilst still employed full-time, I spent every free moment at weekends or holidays to work on my future business and this is what I learned:

edITTranslations-branding-exercise
edITTranslations-branding-brainstoriming-exercise
  1. Branding and specialisation. You cannot be a jack of all trades. In order to be really professional, you need to narrow down what you know about and what you like and read, read, read. Although in my career I learned a lot about say, financial software and banking regulations or compliance issues, my inbox fills up every day with Fintech, EdTech, and business news and subscriptions. Branding involved spending several weekends brainstorming themes and keywords derived from the areas of knowledge, priorities, things I like doing. Then I converted them into the definition of who I am and what I have to offer. 
  2. Learning CAT tools. Since I left the corridors of the ITIRI in 1994 (Institut de Traducteurs, d’Interprètes et des Relations Internationales de l’Université de Strasbourg), with the master’s degree in my pocket, the world of translation has changed enormously. One of the biggest changes is the widespread use of Computer-Aided Software, especially if you want to work with agencies. I invested time to learn and money to purchase a licence of a CAT tool. Today this tool makes my translation deliverables faster, more consistent, more professional, and more accurate.
  3. Membership of community groups, essentially on social media. Translation can be a lonely profession. Luckily, modern social media are full of supportive groups and forums, where translators share their thoughts, tricks and tips, or even do business together. I feel I’m not alone.
  4. A ProZ profile. This was actually my first investment. I paid an annual fee to feature on the platform and noted names of agencies every time they posted a job on ProZ in my specialisation. The platform’s Blue Board is a particularly useful feature, worth paying the annual fee for. It provides practical information about payment and communication practices of clients offering jobs on the platform. The opinions about this platform vary hugely in the freelance community, but I can say that I found (and was found by) paying clients.
  5. Hire a good coach, especially if you have never run a business. Being good with words is one thing, but turning it into a profitable venture, selling and marketing your services is another. I felt I needed advice on this, and I don’t regret this investment a single day. As my mentor lives in California and helps a whole group of translator entrepreneurs, I feel part of a global family.

Yes, I have been a busy bee at this stage. One important thing to bear in mind about side-hustling: you cannot really fully commit to your clients and their needs if you have a full-time commitment elsewhere. At some point, you have to jump ship.

Stage 2: the launch

hustle
why you should hustle

A. There is no mystery here. Hustle. Hustle hard. In the first 9 months, I contacted more than 100 agencies to land 11 clients. Today 4 of them send me regular work and I could afford to say goodbye to one of them, as our ethics and price brackets were not aligned.

B. Develop productivity systems:

  • I have one spreadsheet to enter and follow up on prospects (my own alternative to a CRM tool like Pipedrive)
  • and another one to track revenue and expenses (much less fun, but hey, has to be done!)
  • Google Calendar or Remember the Milk – to maximise the time and tick off the to-do lists

C. A game-changer: be flexible and ready to accept work when others are enjoying holidays (weekends or Christmas). I started to be really busy in January 2020!

D. If you can afford, invest in a website, and update it regularly. Direct client enquiries come into my info@edittranslations.com mailbox on the website.

E. Be present on social media and be consistent with it. I tripled my LinkedIn network this year by interacting with other people and sharing my thoughts on the industry. It takes time to be read and visible, though, so patience and resilience are key!

F. Continue to learn. CPD has a reserved place in my planning and budget. Over the course of last year, I attended several webinars, masterminds, and courses about a variety of topics, including marketing, sales and branding, business planning, SDL Trados Studio, Leveraging LinkedIn, SEO, software and website localisation.

What next?

I could never have imagined that I would celebrate this first business anniversary in a world of almost total lockdown, the epidemiological emergency state, and a looming economic crisis. But in spite of these challenges, I remain optimistic.

Here is why.

Recently I attended a very good online conference about the language industry by Smartcat.ai (you can see the videos of this event here: https://bit.ly/2yAjmY5). My most important takeaways were these:

  1. The world will rebound. Most economic models in our industry show a “Nike” kind of curve, that is a sharp contraction followed by a longer but steady rebound by 2024.
  2. Language Service Providers solve pretty complex problems, and this will not allow us to die anytime soon. No MT or AI can kill us, and by the way, the machine translation hype that every human translator was trembling about, is slowing down and its perceived benefits have plateaued (Renato Beninatto, Nimzi, https://bit.ly/3bjpnp6).
  3. Humanity has lived through worse, so keep a balanced mental approach. Most importantly, “make good lemonade”, because marketing is not everything (Martin Klinger, Language Transactions, https://bit.ly/2zmHD3R). If you provide quality in everything you do, then with time your reputation will follow, even if it means having to work harder and smarter to achieve the same results.

Do you want to share your journey, or do you have questions about any points in this article?

Feel free to reach out!

Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority

When I lived in the UK, I often heard a judgement about French businesses, restaurants or commerce that the customer service is rude and unhelpful.

It is true to say that phrases such as “I’m afraid we don’t…” or “I am really sorry, but” are not really part of the French language. The excessive use of sorry, please and thank-you is unnatural. We simply follow other codes to express the same tone and message. (Hint: try to start your conversation in a bar or a café in Paris with a “Bonjour” instead of “Excuse me” and see the difference.) There are actually business coaches in France who actively discourage salespeople from starting a pitch with a “thank you for receiving me today”, because, they argue, this puts them in a position of inferiority. And this is in a country where selling in just one meeting with a prospective client is notoriously difficult! You don’t want to look like you are asking a favour when you want to affirm yourself as a potential business partner. When you sell, you actually solve somebody’s problem, so who should thank whom in the end?

Here is what the French professionals say

For the past year, I have been teaching business English to many professionals in Normandy. They are all business owners or sales staff, with many years of successful careers in industry, retail or e-commerce under their belts. Some already work with international clients or suppliers, e.g. in Germany or Italy. They are all stunned when I show them British or American business writing or play telephone conversations. Their typical reaction is: “Why do I have to thank people at the start AND at the end of the letter (conversation)? I have already done it!”

Yep, you got it: helpful, but proud.

Less is more

So, do we not thank people for their business, or for queries or enquiries?

Yes, we do, but… whilst we would say it once, it’s not going to happen more than that in a phone call or a letter. In France, we serve customers for sure, but we do not grovel.

If you complain to a French company, do not expect a response starting with “Dear Mrs Dubois, thank you for your letter about your compensation claim”. A customer is being difficult? We respond to their query or complaint, but we do not thank them for being a pain in the backside.

Status vs. money

The priorities are somewhat different. In the so-called Anglo-Saxon countries, the customer is the king. Not so much in France. Status and dignity are more important than money. A professional you do business with (or a Parisian waiter, for that matter!) wants to be treated as an individual in an equal-playing field, not like a serf. Salespeople will not bend over backwards to you to get a sale.

High vs. low context culture

The French culture is also more “high context” than say, British or American. The meaning is more understated. We don’t tend to repeat information or summarise action points at the end of a business meeting. The cues in communication tend to be more implicit (the famous sous-entendus). If you repeat the same information or recap constantly, you may run a risk of offending your audience. They may think that you patronise them, or worse: that you don’t trust them.

The other meaning of “thank you”

If you have ever travelled around France, have you noticed how often in French we say “thank you” where an English speaker would say “please”?  It makes an instruction sound more assertive. So, where an English sign would say “Please do not park here”, in French it will say “Merci de ne pas stationner”. The same rule applies in business writing. An English email would say: “Please confirm your availability.” In French, we thank instead: “Merci de confirmer”. “Thank you” is an assertive “please”

(Here comes a side note, but I can’t help it: You can see in France poor, but alas frequent translations like this one: “Thank you for not parking here”. I have seen many of these in Normandy and even in a well-known museum in Paris😮. It is high time that tourist boards or local authorities stopped using machine translation for tourist information, but that is another topic altogether. Rant over.)

Too much “thank you” in France puts you in the position of inferiority. How not to translate the affirmative "merci" into English or Spanish.

Working in multicultural contexts

I must say that even after 22 years of living in an English-speaking country I have remained French in many ways. My translation business coach, Jenae Spry, invariably starts every webinar or Q&A session with: “Thank you guys so much for hanging out with me, I know you guys are so busy”. And every time I cannot help thinking: “Why are you thanking me again? I am paying you for this service, so of course, I am tuning in!” 😊

Straightaway though, my little culture-awareness voice answers: “Yes, but she is American, and this is the way she manages business communication with her clients. She sells me a coaching service and she thanks me for the business”.

If like me, you like the topic of cultural differences, I highly recommend the fabulous book by Erin Meyer: “The Culture Map” ( https://www.erinmeyer.com/book ). That map is very complex, but the most important lesson I have learned from her book is this: try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their perspective. What may seem rude or cold in one culture may be a sign of respect and self-respect in the other.

Why did the world laugh at the French President’s mistake?

Last year a piece of news about the French President Macron made a lot of readers giggle. The President possibly switched between French and English a bit too fast. When talking about the Australian PM’s wife, he misused the word “delicious” — délicieuse — because in French it also means “delightful”.

Question: what if a mistake like this appeared on your professional website?

After all, “delicious” is the first automatic translation of “délicieux” that comes up on Google. And if you are a bit more curious and you click on the 8 more translations that Google offers, which one would you choose?

Not only you will lose good ranking and search traffic. Chances are that visitors won’t stay on your web page too long and errors will not add to their trust.

Your website is your business card, so careful phrasing does matter. Otherwise, it will be inauthentic and ineffective for people not speaking English.

Do you want your customers to giggle at some stunning mistakes while you claim to deliver state-of-the-art solutions?

Show them you care. Great products deserve great translations.