When Some Words Shouldn’t Be Translated

Emanuel Longo | April 23, 2013

Highlighting text in Microsoft WordWhen it comes to translation, there is so much to remember! From consistency of terms to localization of numbers, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

I’d like to spend some time and discuss an important aspect of translation that’s often overlooked. When translating from English into another language, is it better to leave certain terms in English for your readers’ reference or is it better to translate those terms so they’ve better understood by your audience?

Coming from a dual language background, the one bit of advice I can give is: Translate everything! In many cases, this mean inserting explanatory parentheses throughout the document. While it does add some bulk to your document, it more importantly ensures that your reader understands your content without needing an English-to-[insert language] dictionary.

**For the purpose of simplicity in this blog post, I’ll use the assumption that your document will be translated FROM English INTO another language.

So where were we? That’s right—translate everything!

Exceptions to this rule are company names, which are known by their English name around the world. Here’s why this is an exception. Often, documents will reference organizations and companies for the reader, and direct them to contact those organizations in the future or find them online. But when your company name is not listed anywhere in the document in English, odds are your target market will have a difficult time finding you.

Organization names and other English terms in translations can be handled in a few ways: (1) they can be all translated, (2) they can be left in English throughout the document, or (3) they can be either translated or left in English, using parentheses in the other language for clarification.

Sometimes, our translators have their preferred way of referencing English terms and names, but often, they are more than happy to follow our clients’ guidelines.

As far as marking terms that need to stay in English, a lot of what I’m talking about can be done in the initial content creation phase (if it’s already known that the content will be translated). Those words and phrases that need to remain in English can be marked up very early on in the process, either by highlighting or changing the color of the font. It’s not a required step, but it may alleviate some headaches down the road.




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