It all depends on the purpose: how loosely can your text be translated?

Business concept

“What purpose do you have in mind for your text?” You might have heard this question from your translation agency after you have submitted a translation.

Why ask this question? What does it matter if your text is used for your business’ internal communication or is published on your website for your customers?

Find out why it is important to share the purpose of your text and how it can benefit your translation here.

The purpose influences the type of translation

Perhaps you have already noticed this: there are limitless possibilities for translating a single sentence. Because there are often several translations for one word – and context plays an important role.

Should the translation be as close to the source text as possible or does the translator have a little leeway?

To pick something appropriate from the endless possibilities, the translator primarily needs information about what type of translation you have in mind. The purpose of the translation is a good guide for this.

Translation for the purpose of informing or improving understanding

Imagine you would like to inform your colleagues of a new focus for, or changes to, your company. Your corporate language is normally English because you have branches in many different countries. In this case, it is important that every one of your colleagues feels personally addressed – and that works best when you use their native languages. In doing so, it is guaranteed that this important information is understood.

Creativity and certain linguistic flourishes are not absolutely necessary as your text is purely for the purpose of conveying information. The text has to be linguistically correct but it is acceptable if the text is recognisable as a translation.

If your translation agency does not know about this purpose, then the following could happen: The translator rolls up their sleeves and gets to work on composing a text that is ready to be published to the public, which represents your company in an appropriate fashion.

Your translation office plans extra time for this and offers you a delivery date that doesn’t fit your timetable...

Translation for the purpose of publication

Perhaps you would like to publish your company brochure to convince foreign-language-speaking clients of your company and your products.

In order to perfectly address your clients, the translation must be of high-quality, read fluently and arouse interest. Marketing texts in particular sometimes require creativity. It is less about a word-for-word translation but instead, much more about the effect of the text being conveyed.

This is because marketing texts often use word play or expressions that will create particular associations with your target audience/reader and speak to them emotionally.

Generally speaking, each person has their own associations informed by different factors but usually, there are certain similarities within a particular group of people.

Dependent on how much freedom you give your translator, the final product, the finished translation, might not have much to do with the source text and isn’t recognisable as a translation – but will have a similar impact on your foreign-language-speaking target reader/audience as the original text. It is more about adaptation than translation.

If your translation service provider is unaware of the purpose of your text, you may receive a formally correct text, which may not address your foreign-language-speaking clients appropriately because they are not convinced by the style of the text.

Translation of certificates

The translation of certificates provides a unique case. There are certain documents that you are legally required to present to an authority and may need a translation for these.

When translating certificates to be presented to public authorities, everything has to be in accordance with the original document and, if required, there are further things which must also be noted, including:

  • Reproduction of formatting,
  • Notes about the hand-written entries,
  • Mentions of seals, coats of arms and logos and
  • Reproduction or comments on mistakes in the source text.

When translating documents, a translator has no leeway. In most cases, a certificate of accuracy must be provided if the translation is intended for authorities or agencies.

At first glance, your translator does not know if your certificate is meant to be given to the authorities or if it is for private purposes, for example to understand the text better.

If you do not inform your translator and they do not ask you about it, a text will be delivered that does not meet your requirements.

How loose can your translation be?

The question of how loose a translation can be is always there. Do you want your clients to recognise every single one of your sentences in the translated text? Or is the translator able to choose their words more freely, as long as it has the same impact of your foreign-language-speaking audience/reader?

Give your translator the appropriate information to receive a translation that matches your expectations and fulfils the intended purposes.

Not sure about whether you have given your translator all of the important information they require? No need to worry – any good translation office will request clarification on their own.