A Checklist for Preparing Your Next Translation Project

by Erica Manning

You’ve spent weeks leading a team of people who have invested countless hours of time, energy, emotion and resources creating your patient materials.  The text was drafted and then laid out into the carefully chosen study design.  Round upon round of painstaking review commenced. Finally, the files are approved.  There’s only one thing left to do: translate them into all needed languages.

Suddenly, you are swept into a dizzying vortex of questions and varying commentary.  What happened!?!

Language happened.

It is natural not to notice how difficult using language can be.  We forget how much practice we have had over our lifetime.  For years, we have spoken with people and read/responded to emails all day long.  We think to ourselves with words and use them to create our shopping and to-do lists.  We are constantly choosing just the right way to accurately convey the images we see, feelings we experience, or to describe the abstract concepts formed in our minds.

Professional translators do the same thing.  They read the English source text and must understand its meaning in context and detect any connotations.  Then they re-compose the message in another language in such a way that the translation will conjure the same image in the mind of the target-language reader, simulating the experience an English reader would have reading the original text.

Differences in culture and how words are used can impact the sometimes difficult process of recreating the English text in target languages. Adding idioms or culture-specific messaging, context, connotation and nuance can further complicate these existing difficulties.

What can you do to prepare your next translation project?

1. Be aware. Language often draws from cultural reference points.  Culturally specific statements can eliminate the need to explain while evoking an emotional response.  However, you will need a planned approach when translating these kinds of statements into multiple target languages to better ensure consistency in your global messaging.  When your goal is to convey information, a culturally neutral statement can be just as effective.

2. Be reasonable. If you spent a good deal of energy and thought choosing just the right words, a linguist is going to have to spend adequate time doing the same in the target language.  If your team took two weeks to write and revise a booklet, it’s not reasonable to expect a language team to translate and edit it in less than one day and still do the great job you expect.

3. Get help. Pulling in an expert to review your content at the development stage is a great way to be proactive.  They can help you create plans for potential translation issues or avoid the issues altogether.


Paying attention to how your decisions today will impact your tomorrow can save you a good deal of time, energy, sanity and money.

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