Do you know who made it to the South Pole first, Amundsen or Scott? I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head when I was brought in to edit a huge translation for a website of a luxury cruise company. And yet I was pretty sure they didn’t accidentally meet there and I was absolutely certain they didn’t have a fight. Yet this exact sentence – in Russian – was staring right at me.
It turns out the translator wasn’t familiar with the English expression ‘to beat somebody to it‘ and translated it as ‘beat somebody up‘. Most importantly, they didn’t care to check if such a historic fight did take place. Why? The project was big, the deadline was tight, the translators were not experienced in marketing and travel texts. I also have a strong suspicion that such a critical project was outsourced to the cheapest providers available, yet the client was paying a high price for it – my fees for revising nearly 70,000 words!
Something’s not right
If you can read Russian, you will appreciate some gems that I’ve found in the Russian descriptions of cruise ships, suites and shore excursions: local colours and cultures – «местные колориты», put on your slippers – «обуйте тапочки», exceptional dining – «великолепные обеды». Even something as simple and straightforward as Click here was translated as «жмите здесь»! These made me laugh – and cry – at the same time.
Yet the company wanted potential customers to explore, engage and buy, not laugh their heads off. The gap between the sophistication of the English copy and the absurdity of the Russian translations seemed unbridgeable. It took a lot of time and effort to make it right.
It is much easier – and much more cost-effective – to get it right the first time.
Does it make sense to scrimp on translations when the website probably cost thousands to build and the company’s reputation is at stake? Not to me. It is much easier – and much more cost-effective – to get it right the first time.
How to get it right
If you want your website, your brochure or any other marketing copy to read well in any language, including Russian:
- Find a translator who specialises in marketing and is familiar with the industry you work in.
- Look out for translators who are creative. If you hired a copywriter or an agency to write your copy, their craft needs to come through in the language you’re translating into. Otherwise that’s a lot of money wasted.
- Choose a translator who asks questions and takes the time to learn about your brand. Encourage questions – questions are good.
- Discuss your expectations, tone of voice and target audience. Better still, provide a brief.
- Remain open and accessible throughout the project to iron out any issues and help the translator provide an outstanding result.
The benefit of getting it right
So why would anyone want to pay what might seem like a lot of money for premium marketing translations? At the very least, to avoid some really embarrassing blunders that could affect your brand’s image and your customers’ trust.
But choosing a great marketing translator gives you much more than that: it’s your best shot at convincing your customers about your products or services in another language.
What’s with the polar explorers?
It was a big and complicated project, but I learnt a lot – about the importance of glossaries, clear communication, hiring the right people from the start and taking responsibility for the final product even if it was unpublishable to begin with.
What was the high point? Delivering this project was one. Another one? Taking part in a call with the client and hearing praise for the final result from a Russian speaker in the client’s team.
If you’d like a second opinion on the Russian translations you already have or want to discuss a potential translation or transcreation project, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org