Shed a Little Light

I have recently started to work on an ongoing multilingual project (an online art-collection management tool) which is proving a challenge for everyone in the team due, amongst other things, to the end client’s lack of experience with translation projects.

As an online tool, the platform only has occasional sentences in isolation, the bulk of the work consisting of section of field headings, i.e. short stand-alone strings of words, or even single words. There is therefore no context beyond the nature and purpose of the platform itself. While this can’t be helped, it really is one of a translator’s worst nightmares since one word may mean many different things. Translating a mere list of words is like working in the dark. Consequently, the translators and editors working on this project are spending a fair amount of time querying many of the strings. Unfortunately, many of the replies so far have consisted of screenshots of where the offending terms will be found on the platform rather than of explanations of the type of content that is to be entered in the space they designate.

This highlights a lack of experience and understanding on the client’s part, which can be fixed through better communication on both sides. On the one hand, the linguists have started to realise that their questions need to be highly specific and crystal clear to make sure that the client understands unequivocally the kind of information they require; on the other hand, the client needs to read the questions carefully and not rush into giving potentially irrelevant and/or unhelpful information that will only trigger a reiteration of the query.

There rarely is one single way of translating a word. Translation is about relaying meaning – not words, so if your translation project doesn’t offer much context, be prepared to provide succinct but clear and specific explanations for each text entry.

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