Know your audience (1)
Or why you might need your translator to be a cultural consultant, too…
Even I, a translator, didn’t give much thought to what’s the right language for a specific audience until I found myself trying to explain why a teaspoonful of blood doesn’t sound right in my target language. At first, you might think ‘I translated everything, why doesn’t it sound right’, and then it hits you.
‘Dang, blood by the teaspoon or tablespoon sounds weird in Romanian, because:
a. Spoons (except those included with cough syrups) are not a standard measurement for us;
b. If I, not a particularly squeamish person, find a spoon of blood somewhat gory, I can only picture what a mother agreeing to a spoon of blood being collected from their baby must feel like;
c. Even your oldest auntie from that remote village up in the mountains knows how big a 2, 5 or 10 ml syringe is, because she had blood collected at least once in her life.’
While, in most cases, I translate for very specific technical, medical, pharma or legal audiences, sometimes I deal with non-specialised end-user-facing documents, such as various consent forms, drug PILs or household appliance user manuals.
This is when good cultural advice from your translator becomes important. Whether you’re manufacturing household appliances, setting up a clinical trial or inform your website user about their rights and obligations under your T&C, you need your audience to understand what they are agreeing to, and also to protect yourself from potential lawsuits, as well as loss or business or money.
And this is where we come in (to save the day, sometimes). We ensure that the language you use is appropriate for your specific audience. We cut words here, add words there, use the imperative in Romanian, because this is how we give instructions, cut back on the number of please-s, and split phrases when they would turn into endless grammatical dragons in Romanian*.
If you, dear reader, are a translator, please remember that you have the grammatical right and obligation to cut and add words werever it makes sens in your target language, but be prepared to explain why to someone who is not speaking your language.
* Translatorial Trivia: Romanian translations might have wordcounts higher by 10-30% compared to English. The number of words stays roughly the same for my other two working languages (one of them being a Romance language too is quite self-explanatory, and I will get back to you when I figure out why it doesn’t change much for the Slavic language, with a completely different structure).