Don’t Get Lost in Translation

As experts in organizations present and train to global audiences,
they will often need to have materials and presentations translated. Here are tips for translating content and presentations that have worked for others!

If presentations must be translated, much expense can be saved if
they are designed with translation in mind. This means creating simplified wording as well as simpler graphics for translation later.

When designing materials for global audiences use caution with:

  • Cultural or geographic references.
  • Sports analogies that do not apply across cultures. Soccer references will be familiar in many cultures, but baseball in far
    fewer. (For example, avoid phrases like: “We need to hit it out of the park.”)
  • Jargon, slang, and cliches. These are often not translatable. At best they are unclear, and at worst they are confusing. (For
    example, avoid: “It’s like looking for a needle in a hay stack.” If you have to explain a hay stack, it isn’t going to make your
  • Gender, geographical, or historical references.  Acronyms and abbreviations.
  •  Homophones (same or similar sound, different meaning such as hear and here).
  •  References to the human body, animals, sex, alcohol, politics, or religion.

Tips for Making It Easier Later

  • Stick to six lines per slide, not full sentences. Chinese uses 50
    percent less space, Spanish can take 50 percent more. Less slide reformatting will be required if the slides are designed with the end in mind.
  • When writing documentation or content, use short and simple sentences. A more formal tone rather than a casual tone will
    work for all cultures.
  • Use simple formats for slides, handouts, or documentation to
    make it easier to allow for expansion.
  • Special fonts may make it difficult to translate. Also, video and audio clips will add more translation costs.
  • Use the same term for things referred to repeatedly. If you are using a translating firm, they will likely create a glossary of unusual/industry terms, particularly if more than one project will be translated.
  • Static graphics and pictures really help. They can help solidify
    and clarify. Use caution to make them appropriate for the
    audience. Keep graphics in separate files, rather than imbedding them.
  • Only translate a final work product. Changes and edits after
    translation will cost additional time and money.
  • Include translators in the project discussions. They can help you give them files in the most efficient manner. Make sure they know your audience.
  • Check software and versions. Some Windows versions are more language friendly (particularly Chinese translations). You may spend a lot of money on a translated version and end up projecting boxes.
  • Take printed materials with you, just in case
    you need them.
  • Add time to training. Plan on at least a third more time for
  • Spanish isn’t just Spanish. Are you presenting in Spain or
    Argentina? The same goes for other languages, including
  • Target a specific reading level for written material.

Planning an editing review by in-country experts will help to avoid future issues.  Likely the translator you use will not be an industry expert, so that final review/approval is an important one.

Much can be accomplished and many issues can be avoided by up-front planning when developing and translating materials for audiences across the globe.

Reprinted with permission from The Essential Guide to Training Global Audiences, published by Pfeiffer.

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2 Responses to Don’t Get Lost in Translation

  1. I just finished reading the Interactive and Engaging Training book, your recent release Renie…thanks for a wealth of knowledge and insights.
    I just spoke during the black History month last February at a school in Chicago- Prosser Career Academy to high school student. The Topic was “Attaining a Global Mindset- To Act Local and think Global”…

    I shared and enlightened students about the emerging marketplaces and economies in the global arena, and how they fit in. I work to connect schools and link them up through online platforms utilizing the e-learning technology available.

    Renie, thanks for your book, it helped me prepare for the event and I did utilize your sample exercise examples and instructions, we did the Timeline Activity and Play Catch game, and I sent them an Online Scavenger Hunt about Zambia, Africa and Southern Africa, before I came to speak. …it was great.
    They were curious, fascinated and hungry for this topic…schools don’t really teach them this.

    Lets join forces and see how your wok can be expanded to Africa as well. I’m in with you, exciting time and era to live. Great work!


  2. Renie says:

    I am delighted to hear from you Princess Zindaba. Long time no see! I’m sure your message was impactful. Your book was certainly enlightening to me. And I’m delighted that you were able to use interaction ideas to help solidify your message with the students. Continue to change the world!

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