This is a guest post by Christian Arno, contact me if you want to guest post on this blog.
Globalization is a key component of many modern businesses. Once upon a time, targeting international markets was reserved for big companies with big budgets, but with the advent of the internet era, the smallest of home-based businesses can ‘go global’ with not much more than a networked computer and a touch of entrepreneurial savvy.
Although marketing communications have gradually moved across from print to the digital domain, the words we use to connect with customers/potential customers are as important as ever.
Copywriting – An Art
Copywriting is the art of creating and manipulating text that will not only introduce a new service or product to the target (domestic!) audience, but bring it to life and make people really believe in it. It should intrigue them, captivate them and, ultimately, encourage them to buy into the idea.
Of course, little persuasion should be needed as to the importance of getting your copywriting right. But when communicating with international audiences, there are other considerations to be made.
Converting an existing set of promotional messages from one language into another requires a highly skilled translator, one who is not only fluent in the source language (in this case, English…) but who is a native speaker of the target language and who is capable of writing creatively.
Many translators are excellent at converting technical text, say, for instruction manuals, or general text such as emails or letters. Taking a creative marketing text in one language and converting it to another language is known as transcreation and is an art in itself.
With transcreation, a direct translation won’t do. The overall meaning will likely have to change, whilst ensuring that the attitude and persuasiveness of the original text is maintained.
Grammatical correctness is crucial to translation, which is why a translator should only ever translate into their native language. But fluency in a foreign tongue and an in-depth understanding of one’s own language doesn’t automatically qualify someone to transcreate. They must have conceptual and linguist dexterity
So why would any business want to use transcreation: why wouldn’t they simply appoint a team of copywriters in the target country who can develop the marketing text from scratch? Well, most companies want the ‘feel’ of the original text to be kept intact – and this requires someone with an intimate understanding of the source language. They must appreciate why the message works and reproduce something that is localized for the target language.
Go Global , Think Local
For companies to ‘go global’, they must think ‘local’. It’s not enough to translate a website into French and use the same text for all French-speaking markets, be it Canada, France, Belgium or Switzerland. There are enough dialectal differences to merit an individual approach for each region. For example, ‘weekend’ is simply ‘le weekend’ in France, but in Canadian French it is fin de semaine (literally, ‘end of the week’).
Similarly, ‘breakfast’ is petit déjeuner in France, but in French-speaking Belgium and Switzerland it’s simply déjeuner. And déjeuner, incidentally, means ‘lunch’ in France. There are countless distinctions to be made between the various French dialects of the world, a trend which is also true for the German in Germany and the German in Switzerland and, to a slightly lesser extent, Austria.
Then there’s the issue of numbers. In the US and the UK, commas are conventionally used in numbers as ‘thousands’ separators, with a ‘dot’ used as the decimal separator (1,000,000.00), but in other parts of Europe (e.g. Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Sweden), this convention is reversed (1.000.000,00). Some countries (e.g. France, Croatia, Poland and Finland) don’t use any thousands separator at all (1 000 000.00).
In Sweden, colons are used as decimal separators with money only (21:43 kr); whilst the Netherlands use a decimal point in place of a decimal comma for the thousands separator in currency (€ 1.000.000,00), but a space for other numbers (1 000 000,00).
This helps to demonstrate the importance of localizing text for international markets. Seemingly trivial points can make a big difference when businesses are trying to engage with global consumers and it pays to consider each market carefully before committing substantial amounts of money to targeting it.
About the author
Christian Arno is Managing Director of global translations company Lingo24 . Founded in the UK initially in 2001, Lingo24 now has clients in over sixty countries and operations across four continents. Its turnover in 2009 was $6m USD.
Photo credit : Tico