The Untold Truth of Translation Projects

by Erica Manning

In the past week alone you’ve conveyed hundreds of thoughts, images and ideas to other people using language. Unfortunately, this is often a one-sided act. What you probably don’t often think about are the lenses that other people look through – the personal experiences, values, and perceptions that impact how they receive your messages.

For example, if I say “yellow lab,” an image is conjured in your head. Everyone has a particular image based on their own personal experiences. Each of these images will likely manifest differently. Is your dog of a certain breed and color running? Swimming? Shaking off water? Each of these different images represents a variant of the same idea.

This variability can cause language to be a very imperfect medium. It’s no small feat to be able to effectively and accurately communicate a concept with two parties understanding the same language. It is exponentially more difficult across multiple languages.

The same is true for your patient materials.

Why do translation projects go awry?

As if translation wasn’t complex enough, there are many other factors that can and will complicate your translation projects further.

Most translation projects contain the following factors:

  • many files
  • many versions
  • many languages
  • multiple project timelines
  • multiple project phases
  • scope change
  • a sense of urgency

If you’re going into 15 countries with 20 languages, a basic translation process can easily turn five source files into over 300 files. These 300 files all need to be tracked, version controlled, and managed.

…and this is all assuming a smooth and quiet process – which we all know is rarely the case!

From there, you add in additional factors specific to the clinical trial arena, such as:

  • different timelines for each component
  • protocol amendments
  • lack of necessary information, for example, which countries the study is going into
  • lack of standard local needs
  • managing sponsor vs. IRB/EC vs. site edits
  • industry-specific acronyms and phrases

A lot of these are true realities of translation projects, but the additional costs and headaches that go with them can be avoided with certain know-how and a desire to invest in your translation project ahead of time. Check out part two of this post where I give some pointers for doing so.


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