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.
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:
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.
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 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!