What to do if you’re not happy with a translation you’ve commissioned

You may not have to throw away your translation

On my blog, I like to talk about how to get the best possible translation for your money and reach the happiest ending for either you or your business – but unfortunately, sometimes things may not go as planned, either for the translator or for the person requesting the translation. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never received questions about a translation I’ve done – although thankfully, these have never been full-on complaints, just clarifications 😉

Still, if you’ve hired a translator to translate your website or business documents, but something feels a bit off…how do you fix it?

What’s wrong with it?

It doesn’t contain some of the words you thought it would

Check with your translator to see why certain words don’t appear. Are there terms that you wanted to be included, because they are specific to your company or industry? I often do translations for a company that refer to their different product ranges as “universes” – and if I hadn’t double-checked with them about this specific word, I wouldn’t have thought to translate it that way.

Some words also have several meanings – following on from the above example, the French word univers could also be translated as world, sphere, offer, department, range, or of course, universe. Choosing one word over the other may or may not change the meaning of the text, but if you have your reasons for including a certain word, let the translator know about your preferences.

Be open to answering any queries that the translator might have – and if possible, provide a glossary or other reference documents before they start the translation, so that they can understand more about your company and be more consistent in their translation.

The translation doesn’t look like the original

Have the paragraphs been cut up into shorter sentences? Is one sentence suspiciously long? Has the translator perhaps reworded the paragraph?

Hey, sometimes that’s okay. Texts are not always translated word-for-word, so the sentence structure may look a little different to the original text. It’s also not unusual for some words to get cut out when translating to help improve its flow, as long as it doesn’t affect the original idea of the text. If you still have your doubts – for example, you’re worried that this will affect the layout of a page, then work with the translator to find a solution.

There are many instances where a literal translation just wouldn’t work – it would make the new text read awkwardly and sound unnatural (we call this “translationese”!). As with the previous point, simply ask your translator about it; maybe there’s a reason why they chose to translate the text the way they did. There’s rarely one right way to translate something, and it’s helpful for a translator to hear alternatives – or it might be helpful for you to hear why the suggestion you had in mind may not work in the translation.

It hasn’t had the results you expected

Perhaps you’ve had your website or marketing material translated, but you haven’t noticed much difference in terms of your visitors or engagement. It’s possible that you need a new marketing approach as well as a new translation. Translating isn’t just about changing the words; you need to connect with your new audience in the same way that you did in the original language. To achieve this, you need to work with someone who understands transcreation and localisation, or who specialises more specifically in the subject of the text, so that the message that you want to send to your target market can be conveyed in the right way. Remember that thanks to cultural differences, the language and approach that you use in one country may fall flat in another.

The translation doesn’t even make any sense!

Oh dear. I hope you never have to experience this, but sometimes it happens – someone has promised you a flawless translation and when you get it back, you are sorely disappointed…or worse, you have to find out the hard way that it’s bad, from one of your customers or clients! Just look at the results I got when I went mystery shopping on Fiverr, or the mess I paid for when I bought a souvenir brochure at the Monaco Grand Prix.

These kinds of cock-ups can happen for many reasons: the translator has misunderstood the original text; they’re translating away from their native language and perhaps don’t speak the other language as well as they think they do; or they haven’t done enough research or have the subject knowledge to understand how to make the text clearer.

The best way to fix this is to find someone else to revise it – or, depending on the damage, get a new translator to redo the translation from scratch.

Conclusion

In all of these examples, communicate with your translator to see if you were right to be concerned, and then decide if you can work together to fix it into something that you’re happy with. Translations work best when they’re a collaborative process, but if you feel it’s really not working out, maybe you need to cut your losses and find a new translator. Read my tips on finding good translators here – and once you’ve found someone you can trust, you’re well on your way to taking your business global!

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