A Few Words

Controlled Language: The Elements of an Efficient Translation Process

Posted by Agnieszka Ostrowska on Dec 3, 2014 5:45:00 PM

When it comes to writing, it’s best to keep things simple. Though natural language tends to be complex and sometimes ambiguous, written communication should be as clear and concise as possible. At least that is what America’s most influential writing style guide recommends. Strunk and White’s The Elements Strunk_and_Whiteof Style outlines a set of rules that promote plain English composition – and these rules couldn’t be more appropriate for pieces requiring translation.

Aligned with the fundamentals of the writing manual, there is a popular technique promoted by translation service providers known as Controlled Language (CL). By following a rule set similar to the one in the classic slim volume, CL teaches writers to write in a more direct and uniform way, which results in a much more efficient and cost-effective translation process.   

Aligned with the fundamentals of the writing manual, there is a popular technique promoted by translation service providers known as Controlled Language (CL). By following a rule set similar to the one in the classic slim volume, CL teaches writers to write in a more direct and uniform way, which results in a much more efficient and cost-effective translation process.    

What is Controlled Language?

The first CL was developed in the late 1920s by Charles Ogden. By simplifying grammar and using a vocabulary of only 850 words, Ogden created “Basic English” to help non-English speakers learn English in five weeks.

Not far from the original idea, today’s controlled language is a subset of a natural language, obtained by restricting the grammar and vocabulary to reduce or eliminate ambiguity, complexity, and confusion. A controlled language is governed by a more strict set of rules that encourage authors to write content that is easy to understand. Content that is easy to understand is also easy to translate, and therefore human translators and machine translation systems produce better results when translating controlled language text.

Removing Ambiguity

Natural language used in everyday communication tends to be so flexible that it can easily lead to confusing and ambiguous, yet grammatically correct, constructions. This can be especially true of technical writing. The addition of special vocabularies, writing styles, and complex grammar tends to render the text opaque not just to ordinary readers, but to experts as well. The obscurity of a text is amplified by the translation process, where ambiguities can lead to incorrect translations, more ambiguities, delays in the process, and an increase in cost.

The idea of controlled language is to counter the tendency of writers to use complex, confusing or overly-specialized language by promoting clear, consistent and concise writing and thus making translation more efficient.

Practical Examples

Controlled language rules are examples of the CLOUT™ rule set (Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation). The most widely used controlled language today is “Simplified Technical English,” which was developed by the aircraft and defense industry to help create documents that are simple enough to understand for readers with limited command of the English language – and are ultimately easier to translate. Some examples of its rules are:

  • Limit each sentence to no more than 25 words
  • Restrict the length of noun cluster to be no more than 3 words
  • Paragraph limit of no more than 6 sentences
  • Avoid slang and jargon
  • Use “a / an” and “the” wherever possible
  • Use simple verb tenses (past, present and future)
  • Use active voice

Controlled languages differ from language to language as they stem from each natural language and its unique grammar. However, most of the rules outlined above can be applied to many languages to simplify text and reduce ambiguity.

What's in it for me?

Starting a translation with text written in a controlled language will significantly improve the quality and Controlled_Languagesturnaround time of a translation, while reducing the overall cost. In addition to a faster, better and smarter output, your technical writers will also become more efficient, as they improve their writing skills and begin to re-use previously written texts, cutting time from the entire process. CL will also limit the use of inconsistent terminology, encouraging reusability not only at the term level, but also at the phrase and sentence level.

CL has promoted efficiency in communications, which is why it is widely applied to highly-specialized content such as technical documentation, and part as of machine translation and mobile communication technologies. 

The benefits are as clear and simple as the rules of a CL.  Just as Strunk and White’s little book has made a big impact on writing, CL can make a positive impact on your translation process.  .


Topics: Best Business Practices, Resources

Style Guides: The Importance of Consistency

Posted by Elanex Marketing Team on Oct 30, 2014 9:18:00 AM

Companies and organizations use standard style guides to set the rules on the look and feel of their content and design. These guides help marketers, copywriters, and graphic designers use the correct wording, colors and design elements to ensure brand uniformity.  For example, Skype requires that all print materials use the Chaletbook typeface, while Apple says its channel signatures may only be shown in all black or all white.  Articles printed in The Economist never carry a byline.

One might say that a style guide’s major purpose is to ensure consistency. We tend to agree.  Translation projects often require several translators working on a single project around the clock.  Each translator may have his or her own style resulting in differences between sections.  That’s why we recommend developing translation style guides before the start of any project.  Translation style guides set standards before translation begins, which helps companies save time and money.

 What Are Translation Style Guides?

Companies outline their stylistic and editorial preferences in translation style guides to effectively embody a company’s product or message for foreign audiences in targeted markets. Unlike ordinary style guides, translation style guides are implemented when businesses seek oversea ventures with the purpose of creating structure and uniformity and avoiding cultural clash.

When businesses begin to expand around the world, they strive to maintain the essence of their products. Global businesses like Coca-Cola use different slogans for different countries, but keep the same slogans for countries that share cultural similarities (Open happiness in the U.S and Canada; Destapa la felicidad inGuide1 Spain and Colombia; Abre a felicidade in Brazil and Portugal).  Translation style guides aid in the process of changing company slogans, campaigns, and branding to avoid cultural missteps. They create the structure necessary for editors to implement uniformity in foreign markets, while still altering it to appeal to the target foreign audience.

And it is here that translation style guides may play the most pivotal role.  Without a detailed translation style guide, translators may not actually understand who their intended audience is, resulting in “bad” translation.  For example, it may be appropriate to speak to the American guests of a luxury hotel in New York City in a conversational manner but Arab guests of the same chain in Saudi Arabia expect to be addressed in a formal manner.

How Are Translation Style Guides Created?

Global translation service providers create translation style guides by honing in on the editorial standards and goals of a company, while including the cultural and linguistic standards set by the target audience.

The complexity of translation makes creating a translation style guide difficult. To avoid this obstacle, translation services need to consider many areas of editing – stylistic preferences, foreign language linguistic standards, content translation, etc. – to optimize foreign communications.

The translation service providers must have a comprehensive understanding of the company’s goal in order to create an effective translation style guide. They must be aware of the components – tone, target guide2audience, etc. – that deliver company’s goals.  With the correct understanding and an effective translation style guide, global translation services can help alleviate the decision-making process and reduce revisal time – and ultimately cut costs in the long run.   

So before you start your next translation project, be sure to save yourself some headaches and make sure your translation service provider is clear on the following:

  • First or third person?
  • Gender specific?
  • Informal or Formal?
  • Purpose of materials?
  • Who is our audience and what do they expect/want?
  • Currency, date/time, units of measure conversions?
  • Required fonts?
  • Are there any items that do not require translation (brand names/trademarks/proper names/titles/websites, etc.)?
  • Are there specific terms, abbreviations or acronyms to be used?
  • Are there punctuation preferences?




Topics: Best Business Practices, Resources, Translation Basics, Translation Tools

A Quick Guide to Low Cost Translation: Can You Afford It?

Posted by Elanex Marketing Team on Sep 17, 2014 1:45:00 PM

The old adage is true: You get what you pay for… especially when it comes to translation.

Cost is typically a major factor in most business decisions, but keep this in mind: cheap translations are cheap for a reason. You can’t get a good translation at rock-bottom prices unless someone is working below market rates, and chances are it’ll be missing some of the added value and, more importantly, the assurances that come with a professional service.

TranslationFirst-time translation buyers often choose the least expensive option because they don’t appreciate how translation works. Before using a professional service, many simply rely upon someone they know who “speaks the language” or use free online tools such as Google Translate. The results can range from embarrassing to inaccurate -- or worse. Simply put, language translation is a craft, not unlike writing or graphic design, and the experience of the individual translators is highly correlated with good quality results and the appropriate cost structure.

Pricing will vary from company to company so make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting before you make a decision. Sometimes cheap means non-native translators working in an unfamiliar language. Sometimes cheap means skipping important steps or quality reviews. Sometimes it means using generalists that don’t have knowledge of the terminology or content. You wouldn’t ask an electrician to fix a leaky faucet. Similarly someone that knows nothing about due diligence or electrical equipment will be challenged to reasonably translate specialized information.

If you’re in the market for professional translation services, consider the following before jumping at the lowest price:

• Does this price include sentence-by-sentence editing by a linguist to guard against mistakes?
• Are the translators subject-matter experts?
• Is it machine translation?
• If machine, will it be post-edited by a qualified translator, and to what degree?
• Does this price include layout editing or review in the final form?
• What is the warranty for mistakes?
• Does this price include returning the text in the original document, or do you have to cut/paste?



Free Download: Localized List of Languages for Your Website!



Topics: Machine Translation, Best Business Practices, Translation Basics

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: Subjectivity in translation

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Sep 3, 2014 3:35:00 PM

So many in our industry are in love with language. Multiple degrees in linguistics, advanced studies, even language-related hobbies are common for many professionals in the language services industry. Lively conversations where people compare various languages, dialects, characters are common – it’s not work for them; it’s a passion. How lucky we are to be in an industry where so many people care so deeply about the service they provide.

In my last blog post, I discussed the challenge of trying to plan perfection, which, by its-nature is in conflict with the requirements of a continuous-flow process. Some of this disconnect is driven by the very passion for language that is pervasive in our industry. I remember a conversation I had with Don DePalma of CSA in the mid-90’s sharing my frustration about the lack of common quality standards and the inconsistent if not capricious nature of reviewer feedback.

I wish I could report better progress since then. Certainly we have made steps in terms of glossary automation, consistent use of style guides, and many other great tools professional linguists can use. Yet at the end of the day, when a client reviewer has strong preferences, this becomes the de facto standard of “right” and anything else is “wrong” or “bad.”

At a recent Localization World presentation, a manufacturing company shared their methodology of QA guidelines provided to reviewers that clearly define categories and severity of errors. Combined with a consistent scoring methodology, this moved the review process from the purely subjective into something that looks to be reasonable, repeatable, and scalable. But this global company is able to enforce these standards and processes on their employees around the world. The reality is that this company and this methodology represent a small slice of the global demand for translation.

We often ask clients, “Please connect us with your reviewers so we can set guidelines and establish clear expectations.” We are often told that reviewers are not available, or at least none that will be consistent from release to release. Yet the feedback comes, changing approved glossary terms, not following the style guide, or making inconsistent, preferential changes and varying from reviewer to reviewer. Often changes are made because the reviewer does not like or is “correcting” the source. Aside from the natural frustration, this affects the translation memory so the client loses quality, consistency and cost benefits. Everyone loses.

Okay, it’s a bit of a whine. This is a service business and we our proud to take care of our customers – especially in difficult circumstances. The reason for my rant is that we have a business to run, and these types of changes affect the bottom line. Sure, we can charge more – then invariably someone points out that a different company is far less expensive. This is the heart of the matter: in a business where the output is variable and without a clear standard of measure, customers primarily compare by price. We are the victims of our own inability to clearly define and articulate language quality standards and gain broad acceptance. As a proxy, customers rely on the brand of the translation company, or sometimes on trusted personal relationships, to provide the confidence needed to engage services. Or they use translation tests, a subject for a few words another time.

For example, we know that the minimum standard of competence for an accountant is to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the US or a Chartered Accountant in the UK. Attorneys must become members of their bar association. This is not to say there are not valuable translator associations. Membership certainly implies that the translator regards his or her profession with commitment and has competence but there are usually no or little barriers to entry. However, with rare exception, efforts to create standards neglect perhaps the most critical component of all: specialization. You wouldn’t knowingly see a podiatrist about a problem with your eyes or ask a patent attorney to defend your traffic violation. Yet many are willing to select a translator that has never encountered the term “flying buttress” or “equity derivative” and wonder why their in-country reviewer complains about the translation.

The beauty and complexity of translation is that it is ultimately a human endeavor. Humans are both variable and imperfect. Choosing the right humans to translate for you is perhaps the most important variable to nail down. Beyond that, we’ve established processes (two-step translation+editing) that are reinforced by workflow automation to reduce the instances of “bad” translation getting to the customer. We follow industry-standard best practices. We developed a statistically-driven QA methodology to constantly evaluate practitioners to keep everyone performing at peak levels. Our collective challenge is to educate our customers on the importance of specialization and how to measure quality in non-subjective terms. This will help us to improve highly variable project margins and, more importantly, continually elevate the level and consistency of the service we deliver. Everyone wins.

What do you think? Post a comment - I’d enjoy sharing a few words with you.

Topics: Case Study, Best Business Practices, Resources

Three Ways to Optimize the Translation Process

Posted by Elanex Marketing Team on Aug 20, 2014 8:22:00 PM

They say prior preparation prevents poor performance. This especially applies to translation: the process and the outcome can be much improved if the content was prepared with translation in mind. Selecting the right translation company is an important ingredient. Taking a few extra steps to ensure the source copy is translation-ready is equally important. A well-prepared source text will not only reduce costs by making it easier to translate, it will enable consistency in both the tone and message.

Since you are investing in translation, you have already committed to communicating with your customers in a meaningful way. So make sure you get the most of your translation service provider. Here are three simple steps that will improve your content and optimize your translation process:

Step #1: Basic Proofreading 

Basic does not mean quick and easy; basic means that this is the most fundamental, non-negotiable step. Review the source text for typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, style, and spelling. Beyond that, spelling_errorsmake sure the sentences are clear and concise and in consistent voice, tense, and gender.  You have to start off with grammatically correct content to get an accurate translation.

Step #2: Your Voice, Your Style

Communicating in a consistent manner will help you build meaningful relationships with your customers. The fact of the matter is once you’ve engaged an audience, there are certain expectations in the way you communicate that make it a genuine experience. An inconsistent voice is at best hard to read and at worst does not inspire loyalty. Collect the essence of your company’s tone, messages, and vocabulary in a translation style guide – just like you would prepare for an ad agency. It is important to brief your translation provider with this information when you commission the translation.

Establish a consistent format, develop key messages, and create a glossary of frequently used terms. It can really pay off. You will benefit from a smooth, seamless, and cost-effective translation process.

Step #3: Simple is Good   Proofreading-Tips-for-Writers-without-Editors-595x240

Unnecessarily complex language, such as jargon and idiomatic expressions, may get lost in translation. Sports analogies don’t translate, for example. Write in short, declarative sentences in the active voice.     Sentences with multiple subjects or meandering prose may be extremely  time-consuming or even impossible for the translator to accurately  recreate. This ultimately effects the turnaround time and price of the  translation. 

 It goes without saying that working with a trusted and respected translation provider is an essential element for an effective translation process. These simple upfront steps will save you a lot of headaches and enable a smooth translation project. 

 Free Download:  5 Questions to Ask Your Translation Service Provider


Topics: Best Business Practices, Resources, Translation Basics

Let’s make buying translation services easier: A seamless approach

Posted by Donald J. Plumley, CEO on Aug 14, 2014 2:16:00 PM

For an industry whose essential role is to help companies connect with their global customers in any language, it seems to me we can make it really hard to purchase translation services. The reasons behind what at times must seem like an unnecessarily overcomplicated process are largely genuine and reasonable. Still, thinking about the ease with which I purchase other goods and services online or in person tells me that we, as an industry have an opportunity to improve.

Without a doubt there are an astonishing variety of inputs, or source materials, that we encounter on a day by day, or even an hour-by-hour basis. Project size varies from a few sentences to millions of words. The language combinations, subject matters, output formats, and so on are indeed head spinning. But is that so different than the rest of the world? Arguably the tax code is geometrically more complex today than a decade ago, yet working with our accounting firm to file our various tax returns is no more difficult. In fact, since they send us a PDF and we file electronically, the process on our side of the transaction is actually much easier than years ago.

We use a lot of really cool tools combined with decades of experience to help us accurately estimate projects, avoid potholes, and generally do a really good job. But being candid, when I look at both the volume and detail in the back and forth between our team and our client when working on some proposals, I can’t help but shake my head. 20 emails. 50? A bunch of IM’s, a short conference call. At what point does the client get worn out and say, “Just tell me how much so I can place the order and get my translations!”

Today, we are seeing a definite partition among certain groups of customers – those for whom translation is still a bit of an afterthought and those who make it an integral part of a larger production process. For the former, getting the final materials together, building advance trust in language quality, and establishing reasonable timelines continues to be challenging. For the latter, the conversation quickly shifts away from word counts towards integration and flow.

For this second group of customers, getting things done quickly (first to market) is taking precedence over perfection. One of our clients does weekly updates to their web and smartphone applications. Need to adjust or refine a translation? Take care of it on the next update. Better glossary term suggested by an end-user in Brazil? Take care of it on the next update. Oh, one critical string needs to be changed right now – in 43 languages? Upload and go, done in hours.

Driven by historical reasons, we get caught up in trying to define perfection in advance. Avoid surprises. Make sure our margins are safe. Prevent mutual pain. No question these are good business practices. We just need to make this much more transparent – painless – for our customers. We’ve always been fast and accurate. Now let’s get the work underway quicker, and adapt/fix/resolve in real-time. That’s been our mission for the last few years – to make buying translation more seamless and more automatic. The mind-shift is not to treat the continuous flow clients with the old pedantic approach. We stop thinking of ourselves as an end step function, but as a plug and play part of an ongoing, never-ending, continuously iterating production process.

What do you think? Post a comment - I’d enjoy sharing a few words with you.

Topics: Best Business Practices

Foreign Market Entry: Why Communication is Essential to Success

Posted by Elanex Marketing Team on Jul 31, 2014 4:22:00 PM

The ubiquitous combination of online information, inexpensive connectivity/communication, and ease of transportation have created global demand and reduced the obstacles to selling overseas. Today, international sales are a possibility for any business, however being successful takes more than simply launching a new website.

spain1_Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a self-funded startup, conducting business globally has never been easier. But here’s the thing: it may be easier, but it’s still not easy. Technology has made the logistics more manageable, but a successful global business requires more than a logistics plan. From taxes and tariffs to product adaptation to understanding local restrictions (and this is just the tip of the iceberg), laying the groundwork to operate in a foreign country should be well planned to avoid costly mistakes. It can also be very lucrative as long as you take the time to understand your customers.

Any business can attract international customers. It’s really all about communication. Taking the time to communicate with your customers in a meaningful way is the best way to accelerate growth in your new markets. Here are 3 easy tips that will allow for clearer and more meaningful communication with your new international customers:

Tip #1: Who, where, and what?

Look at your weblogs. From what countries are your visitors coming, and how does this compare with actual enquiries? For example, you might receive a lot of emails from Sweden asking about your products, but the weblogs tell you that 100 times as many people from Korea are hitting your website. Perhaps they are interested in specific products or information – or are more broadly focused. Do they go to your “contact us” page but then leave abruptly? All of this information can help paint a picture of missed opportunity, potential obstacles, and where to focus your efforts.

Tip #2: Don’t underestimate the importance of translation

If you want to do business internationally, you simply must communicate in the language of your customer. Think of it this way: if a customer can’t understand what your product or service is, she’s not going to buy it. Even people from other countries that report reasonable English skills spend more time and dollars on native language websites. Translation must be a priority.

But not any translation will do. Free online or super-low cost services are appealing, but often are worse than not translating at all. Make sure your translation is top-notch; one that shows your understanding and expertise by using the correct technical terms and fluid language spoken in the country. In short, language counts. It’s a critical step in maintaining the integrity of your brand. Your customer’s experience – how well you communicate with your potential customer in English or any other language – speaks volumes about how you value their business.

Tip #3: Your website is your calling card: optimize the experience

Your website will likely be the first step in communication with your new global customer. There is more to clear communication than using the correct terminology and phrasing. You should also demonstrate your understanding of your new market’s cultural norms. Some call this localization. Others call it common sense.

Localization is the process of adapting content or products to a specific locale. Some examples of localization include adapting graphics, modifying content layout to fit standard paper sizes, converting to local currencies and using the proper formats for dates, telephone numbers and addresses, and even modifying content based on local cultural sensitivities. In short, localization gives your materials the look and feel of having been especially created for your target market. It allows potential customers to think of you as a local provider they can trust.

There are other tips, such as international SEO, keeping embedded text out of graphics, using a CMS that enables easy multi-language content management, and more…we’ll save those for another time.

Free Download:  5 Questions to Ask Your Translation Service Provider





Topics: Global Consumers, Best Business Practices

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