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Tips when writing for translation

Like for any good text, it helps to write with your audience in mind.

We are happy to work with any type of document, and our linguists will work to render the source text as accurately as possible into Chinese (or another foreign language) while ensuring it has the effect you want it to have. To do this, we sometimes change sentence structure to emphasise the point, or add brief explanatory phrases for unfamiliar things and concepts.

However, our overriding aim is to produce an accurate translation that is appropriate for the context. Unless clients take up the offer of transcreation or copywriting services, we won’t make any major changes to the text.

If this is the case, then it sometimes helps if the document has been written with the target language audience and translation in mind, especially with marketing, educational, informative or entertaining texts. You don’t need to know the target language to do this, but you do need to know your audience.

When writing for translation into Chinese, considering the following will help you produce better texts that are more suited to your reader’s needs:

Who is your audience? A key question for any piece of writing, but focusing on making sure the writing is attractive to the precise demographic in question is critical. A young, well-travelled urban professional will care and know about different things than a middle-aged government employee from a third tier city, for example.

What do they know?
If you’re writing for a UK audience, you may assume a certain amount of shared assumptions and background knowledge. However, you can’t take this for granted with a foreign audience. For example, the concepts of freehold and leasehold are specific to the UK so if you’re selling property, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each is key.

Another example might be in tourism. British people will generally have an idea about, say, the Norfolk Broads – that it is a scenic wetlands area you can navigate by canal barge. But you can’t reference that in relation to your nearby B&B without explaining that and why your Chinese audience should be impressed and why it makes your B&B more attractive. In fact, if you’re running a B&B, you had better explain and sell that concept to your Chinese audience too, as this type of establishment doesn’t exist there.

What do they care about? If your audience is a traditional Chinese business, then they might want to read about the awards you’ve received (as a proxy for your trustworthiness and position in the market) or support from the government (i.e. how well connected you are, how stable your business may be), and they won’t necessarily care so much about how you increase ROI.

What images and ideas resonate? If you want to evoke a summertime feeling in a marketing piece for a Chinese audience, for example, referencing picnics and Pimms or alluding to sun-bathing on the beach with a good holiday read won’t ring any bells with a Chinese audience.

These questions will probably be difficult for companies new to working with China. We are happy to give you an evaluation of what might or might not work in your text, or provide transcreation or copywriting services. Alternatively, you might find it helpful to talk to a Chinese marketing professional.

A note of caution: If you are writing a piece that will be translated into multiple languages, you may want to keep your writing plainer and more informative. There are then no distractions from the core points and once instructed, each translator can then add linguistic embellishments and examples that might resonate with that language’s particular target audience, or use your information or brief as a basis for copy.

Aside from this, unclear or ambiguous wording or phrasing can slow the translation of your document. Ambiguous expressions or grammar might go unnoticed by a native reader, but no-one will read your document as closely as your translator, and they may need to make the ambiguous specific in the target language. Writing clearly is especially important for technical and legal documents.

A corollary to this and the above would be the use of buzzwords and trendy concepts. While ‘growth hacking’, ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘horizon scanning’ might sound impressive to some, there is a chance that this won’t translate across (and if it does, the Chinese version might not be known or popular at all). Instead your real meaning will be obscured. Equally, China has many of its own concepts that are unknown to British audiences, as they arise from China’s unique characteristics – modern examples include ‘O2O’, ‘4S’ car dealerships, and many financial products and government initiatives.

Finally, make sure you use the units, currencies and measurements that are in use in the target locale – for China, convert to RMB and use the metric system.

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