By Helen J. Conway
I am often amazed by the appalling translations you can find on beautifully designed websites and brochures produced by Chilean companies looking to sell their goods or services abroad. Clearly they have lavished all their budget on the design and the translation has been like a last-minute afterthought. The other day I enjoyed a really fantastic bottle of Chilean wine, which someone had recommended to me. Had I just seen it in the store, I would never have bought it, as the back label was written in really poor English and made no sense whatsoever. I presume it had been translated either by someone with little knowledge of English or automatic translation software.
I always wonder what these brand managers or company owners are thinking. Do they suppose that nobody reads the label on the back of the bottle? That people just buy because the website looks pretty without focusing on whether the text makes sense? Or is it that they are entrusting their translations to someone who they feel is competent without really checking?
What is more, the translation of marketing and PR texts needs to be handled in a different way to other types of document. Instead of doing a straight translation, the translator needs to get a good feel for the message that the company wants to send and understand who their target audience is, then adapt the text to get the message across and make it attractive to that audience. This is called creative translation.
And we creative translators go a step further: we take into account cultural differences and avoid cultural pitfalls. According to researchers from the London School of Economics and ESCP Europe Business School, some of the world’s most recognised brands fall into the trap of marketing their products in a global way, while ignoring cross-cultural differences in consumer psychology. Dr Ben Voyer, a visiting fellow in the Department of Psychology at the LSE, says the psychology of consumers can vary greatly between cultures. “Simple things such as how people perceive the colour white can make a huge difference. For example, people in Western cultures associate a white dress with purity, whereas in Eastern cultures white signifies death, so using the colour in advertising requires some sensitivity.”
There are topics which are much less sensitive in Chile than in the UK or the US, such as gender, race, age, disability or religion. So a good creative translator will steer customers away from using terms or expressions in their marketing materials which might offend the very consumers they are trying to attract.
I head up an elite team of experienced creative translators from the United States and the UK, who have marketing, PR or journalism experience in their own country. We work with our customers to tailor their texts so they will appeal to their target audience in English-speaking markets. Our high-profile creative translation clients include the Chilean government, for whom we have been translating more or less continuously since 2008.
We also have an English to Spanish team, consisting of experienced, qualified Chilean translators who do this same job of adjusting the translated text to suit a Latin American audience. They take into account the fact that Spanish-speaking audiences respond well to longer words and longer, more embellished sentences, where English audiences prefer text to be short and concise. Also marketing materials in Chile are often more formal and indirect than those in English-speaking markets, though this is gradually changing.
Before moving to Chile, I worked in marketing, business development and communications in a range of different businesses, including Unilever, Siemens and Parsons Brinckerhoff. Over the last ten years, I have focused on creative translation, with particular focus on the wine industry and over the years I have worked on many winery websites, technical sheets, harvest reports, brochures, POS materials, presentations, mailings, adverts and, of course, back labels. I am passionate about wine and work hard to keep abreast with the wine industry. In 2014, I earned the WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits.
To find out more about creative translation, please contact us.