Translating the Language Barrier

Translating the Language Barrier

October 2019 | Digital Marketing

Translation is slow and expensive, but massively increases campaign results. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to producing better localised content.

Translation is expensive, and the decision about when to translate a piece of content can be a difficult one. Local language content always performs better than English content in most EMEA markets, but a 20% performance uplift often isn't enough to justify the cost of producing and then reviewing a localised campaign. There are over 50 languages in Europe alone, most of them spoken by less than 10 million people. It's simply not possible to cater to all of them.

For those marketers not familiar with the EMEA market, the cost and complexity of translation comes as a surprise. Pretty much everybody underestimates how long it takes to get even the shortest content translated. The time and budget required to get campaigns localised is always the lengthiest component of any campaign launch plan. It doesn't matter how much time the project plan allows for translation, it always takes longer than expected.

Personal Preference

There are no easy ways to eliminate the delay and expense this causes. Translation is an art rather than a science. In most languages, there are multiple ways of translating a piece of content, just as there are numerous ways of expressing an idea in English. In some contexts, it doesn't matter how a sentence is translated so long as the meaning of the original is preserved. For Marketers, this isn't enough. Tone of voice is crucial, as does ensuring that the content is snappy and engaging. That's even before we consider the meaning of the text, and whether the wording of the translation is suitable for the target audience.

These things can also vary from market to market depending on cultural differences. German translations are often more formal than the English that it is being translated from. They can also vary from brand to brand, making a translator's job even more difficult as what one business considers to be an acceptable translation for a piece of content can be very different from what another company considers to be an acceptable translation of the same piece of content.

Given these challenges, cost efficiency is a huge priority for overstretched EMEA marketing teams needing to manage their translation budgets, particularly given that translation agencies often charge by the word. There have been plenty of attempts to make this budget stretch further over the years, usually by involving field marketers more heavily in the translation process or by using translation memory banks to ensure common phrases are always translated the same way. Results have been mixed.

Person vs Machine

The holy grail is always said to be machine translation - either through Google Translate or the in-house machine translation engines maintained by specialist translation agencies such as Lionbridge. Machine translation is much cheaper and faster than human translators because it eliminates the slowest and most expensive part of the translation process: namely the translator. Of course, this comes at the expense of translation quality. Whilst machine translation is rapidly improving, it still rarely sounds natural. Machine translation will preserve meaning for all but the most complex content, but it does come at the expense of creativity and brand.

The previously mentioned Lionbridge have been incredibly successful in adding machine learning into the human translation process, and are widely used among enterprise marketing teams. This allows them to undercut competitors in both cost and turn-around time. However, even the best translations can suffer on the creative aspect of translation. The right translation is as much about personal preference as it is about technical accuracy. Many country marketers will have their preferred translators and translation agencies that can produce a translation that fits the tone they like to portray. Copywriting is the same, so this shouldn't be a surprise.

The End Product

Then there is the final and most overlooked aspect of translation: layout and typesetting. Translating a blog article is fairly straightforward because layout doesn't matter. Translating a white paper or marketing email is much more complicated because it requires putting the translated text in the same space as the original English copy. This takes time and introduces compromises in the translation, given that English sentences tend to be unusually succinct. Most languages are wordier than English or just have longer words.

The traditional approach of sending translations in an Excel file for the creative team to add into the final layout has severe limitations and inefficiencies. As such, many translators will flow the translated text into the final document. Machine translation can help here, and there are dedicated technologies designed to overcome this challenge. Cloudwords have been successful in using their direct integrations with leading CMS and marketing automation platforms to differentiate their services. For large businesses with a high volume of translation needs that is an attractive prospect.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.