You’re working on a piece of content or copy that you know will be translated into a foreign language.
But you’ve never created copy with translation in mind, so you might be a little confused as to what makes a piece of content translation-friendly, or not.
If you’re a stranger to the world of translation, then you won’t be familiar with the translation process, so it’s only natural to be unsure about what makes a text more or less translatable.
First things first. Let’s take a look at why deliberating writing translation-friendly content actually matters.
Okay, so why is it important to create translation-friendly content?
You might be wondering how much of an impact the way you write an original text can really have on a finished translation.
Surely a good translator should be able to handle anything you throw at them, right?
The truth is, writing a text with translation in mind from the beginning can make the whole process far easier and smoother.
If a text is translation-friendly, then the translation will involve minimum investment of both time and money.
The harder a text is to translate, the more a professional translator will charge, and the longer it could take for the finished product in your target language to be produced.
Those are the practicalities. Things that can be quantified and measured.
But there’s more.
After all, no matter how good your translator is, if the text isn’t written with other cultures in mind then some of the subtleties of the text you’ve worked so hard on will inevitably be lost in translation.
So now we’ve established the why behind it, let’s look at a few ways you can make the translation process as simple as possible.
1. Avoid plays on words
I’m a big fan of puns. And plays on words. And idioms. Under any other circumstances, I fully support their use when creating copy and content.
But if you know that a text is going to be translated, then it’s best to stick to clear, literal language, explaining things rather than implying them.
After all, that genius pun you’ve come up with is probably going to be totally untranslatable. And it would be a shame to waste it!
Even if a translator were to come up with a clever alternative, it might not resonate very well with the new target audience.
Keep it simple and explicit, explaining things rather than implying them. Show off your ability to write straightforward, no-frills texts, and save the killer puns for your Instagram captions.
2. Aim for a neutral tone
If you’re writing copy for translation, then your best bet is normally to use a neutral tone of voice.
Avoid anything that’s too colloquial, but don’t make it too stiff and formal either.
A neutral tone as a starting point will make it easier for the translator to translate it into a tone of voice that’s appropriate for the target market.
3. Steer clear of any specific cultural references
Just as you don’t want to be throwing any puns in there, you should also try and minimise any cultural references that would be totally lost on a foreign audience.
Any references to history, pop culture, politics, etc should all be avoided if at all possible.
A good translator might be able to come up with an equivalent cultural reference in their own language that will make sense to the new target audience, but the translation will probably be more expensive or take longer to complete.
It might even stray into the realms of transcreation.
Note: Transcreation is a kind of hybrid of translation and copywriting that allows for more creativity, potentially moving further away from the original text to ensure the meaning is translated, rather than just the words.
It can be a great solution for translating marketing copy, or copy that’s less straightforward and more abstract. Just bear in mind that it’s a more expensive option that standard translation.
4. Keep it short and to the point
The more direct, brief and direct you can be, the better. That doesn’t mean you need to be blunt or that your texts need to be particularly short. Always prioritise clarity above brevity.
But shorter sentences will generally translate better into whichever foreign language you’re targeting.
5. Consider the formatting
On top of the words themselves, you might need to consider the format of your copy.
After all, every language is different, and you can’t necessarily expect translations to fit into the same spaces, or work with the same formats.
Some languages express the same meaning in more or fewer words than others. And, of course, if you’re dealing with non-European languages than you’ll have to consider the requirements of different alphabets and writing systems.
6. But don’t sacrifice your style entirely
Having said all that, remember you don’t have to totally sacrifice your writing style in order to keep things simple and clear.
You can still put plenty of personality into your copy. Translation-friendly doesn’t have to mean bland.
Just bear these tips in mind and the end result will be a text you can be proud of in multiple languages.
Do you have any tips on how to write the best translation-friendly texts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.