“How do I learn translation in a month?”
“I need a better free program than ’Google translate’!”
“This brochure will only need an hour to turn into Arabic, right?”
As the senior Arabic language specialist at FA, I respond to such questions truthfully with “Sorry, I wish I could help you there.”
Expert translation is vital. It’s no use carefully sculpting a perfect message just to throw it in a translation-software blender and turn it to gloop. Only a trained human intelligence can comprehend and re-present the meaning, context, and nuance which are crucial to PR and communications.
And yet, people still imagine that translation should be as fast and cheap as finding a program to do it. It definitely is not. Granted, many translators will cross-check a phrase in Google Translate who have spent four years in specialized study before they start work. However, at that level, if they hear, “Oh, then the translation program can do it for free,” they’re going to laugh … and get paid by a firm that values its reputation.
So, to help you plan translations, here are a few tips:
Allow enough time. Translators need to read the source text carefully, ask questions if necessary, and then explore the best ways to make its whole intended meaning – and only that meaning – sing out clearly in the target language.
Look for sensitivity to genre. In translating a poem, it’s a delicate task to maintain the tone and figurative language so as to convey some of the original beauty without messing up the meaning. By contrast, a technical text like a medical leaflet or an article about oil and gas requires precise and robust use of specialised vocabulary so that professionals in that field will clearly understand and accept its credentials.
Look for experience. Experience plays a great role. An experienced translator is familiar with certain fields of expertise and linguistic expectations, and can even spot errors and inconsistencies your copyeditors and proofers may have missed. They also have had time to develop a style that suits the territory they work in. Which leads to …
Look for local knowledge. From my own experience, I can say that although formal Arabic is often thought to work the same way anywhere, I have noticed that it is used differently in each Arabic country. Qatar in particular needs a specific style including special attention to titles and name spellings, and avoiding some words which may easily be misinterpreted or carry a secondary, culturally improper meaning. Close attention should be paid to religious diction: while a phrase from Qur’an or Hadith may well be used in a speech, there are also some taboos and sensitivities about incorrect use which should never be ignored.
In the end, an expert translation into the right target language can double the reach of your true message – without making you look foolish or, worse, causing a PR crisis.
That’s why expert translation is well worth investing in.
Head of Arabic at Forbes Associates