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Ten things a translator needs – number 10

Our final post in this series is about real-world knowledge.

Translators obviously need a good knowledge of the subject areas they cover, since otherwise they will be unable to understand the source text and render it intelligently, but they also need a wider awareness of the real world.

In many cases, this means commercial awareness – the ability to relate to the business context in which the translation will be used. A press release, for example, needs to be translated in a way that is appropriate to the intended audience, but should also be so compelling that journalists will be likely to cut and paste bits out of it. Ultimately, the aim of the author of the press release is that their carefully crafted message will find its way into the media largely unchanged. A translator must understand that in order to do a proper job.

This real-world dimension is often neglected, perhaps in part due to time constraints, but also due to translators being too far removed from clients (and in many cases being not particularly attuned to the corporate/commercial world, frankly). Close, long-term relationships with clients can help here, but can’t bridge the gap entirely.

To take another example, a blog clearly needs to use a somewhat informal tone. Ideally, it should look as if it has been written by a passionate and knowledgeable employee, rather than having been dictated by the marketing department. Being able to relate to the real-world users of the company’s products or services will allow a translator to strike the right note and connect with the audience in the same way.

Materials related to trade shows and industry events create similar issues. Since such events are generally not open to the public, they are outside the experience of the typical translator, which makes it difficult for them to appreciate the relevance of the content. Anyone who has ever spent hours pounding the exhibition halls at a major trade show will certainly get those references to on-stand catering and comfortable lounge areas…

There are plenty of other examples one could cite, but it’s a wrap, as they say in the movie industry: that brings this series of blog posts to an end. In the New Year, we’ll turn our thoughts to another blog series – watch this space.

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