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As is to be expected, most clients are concerned about the accuracy and fidelity of their translations, and they want to know that the words they’ve chosen so carefully will be rendered accurately in the language for which they are destined.  Clients are often perplexed when I tell them that “translators don’t translate words…”  I like to pause for moment and hear them say “…what do you mean? Of course the text I have consists of words, what else should they be working with?”

In your mind’s eye you can see the light bulb going off over their heads when they get the explanation that “translators translate meaning and context, not a string of words.”  Many clients falsely assume that to be accurate, a translation has to be literal. Far from it. Literal translations, or word-for-word translations, are not even worth the paper they are printed on. If literal translations were the industry’s best practice, then anyone with a dictionary could be a top notch linguist.

Without knowing the proper context, “I can fish” might mean you’re good at hauling in the big ones.  But if you stop and think about it, it could also mean “I work in a cannery.”  The phrase “save now” can be understood to be a command button on a web site or it could be about keeping more money in your wallet.  A statement such as “the product will be delivered by ______________” is most subtle and easily overlooked.  Does the by indicate a deadline or the person delivering or perhaps a means of delivery?

Clients should always take care to provide as much information about where the text to be translated will be used, what it is intended to communicate, and who the target audience is.  And always, always, always, send pictures.  Does that button snap, toggle, slide, turn, push in or pop out?

Hard to say without some context.

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