Lost In Translation In The Dominican Republic

by Arnold Burian

The Dominican Republic is one of the gems of the Caribbean – and one of my favorite islands. We spent our last vacation there on a much needed vacation enjoying the island, the people, and the food.

A copy of the Dominican republic tourist guide was in our room when we arrived. This guide provides various types of information in three different languages simultaneously. Spanish is the primary language in the Dominican Republic; the guide also includes text in English and German.

The guide provides a good example of translation from the other direction (English text translated from a non English source). Here is an excerpt from the welcome section:  

Consistent with the rigorous institutional guidelines of this business which seek to ensure the provision of information that is rich in content, with the objective of optimizing the time invested in searching for data, the Tourist Guide brings together a wide range of options.

This translation highlights what I consider to be the most dangerous type of translation error – text that “comes close” but is not quite right. Certainly, there are plenty of examples of hilariously poor translations (see engrish.com), and it is entirely possible for a translation to be completely wrong, but the biggest danger lies in output that is borderline unclear.

The example in the tourist guide is neither hilariously broken nor technically or factually incorrect, but a reader will likely need to read this passage more than once to comprehend the message. How do you prevent this from happening? That depends on how your organization handles translation.

  1. Completely in house
  2. Completely outsourced
  3. A combination of the two

With options 1 and 3, designate a point person responsible for ensuring the quality of translations. This individual, who could be the localization manager, should drive and verify quality throughout the translation process. This person should be empowered to effect a response by the organization if quality levels depreciate.

With option 2, you will still need to identify an individual to make a best effort to ensure translation quality. Some suggestions:

  • Establish a relationship with several translation vendors.
  • Follow any guidelines or recommendations from the vendors to minimize translation confusion. For example, follow minimal writing techniques for guides and online help.
  • Work closely with any internal customers to collect feedback about the quality of translations. These can include regional support, sales, and deployment teams fluent in the target languages.
  • Create a feedback mechanism that allows vendors, partners, and customers to provide feedback about translation quality.
  • Designate a process for aggregating feedback and incorporating updates into subsequent releases.

At the minimum, the wording in the tourist guide demonstrates the value of professional translation. Being “fluent” in a language is not the same as being able to offer translation services for that language. 🙂

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