When NOT to choose Native Translators

In the last several months, I am actively paying attention to all new and relevant sales techniques that might bring a great experience to our potential and current clients. Our business development team keeps inventing new approaches, and I tend to find inspiration for some of the articles we create from those moments when they walk the mile and are more an advisor than a salesperson. And very recently a wonderful lesson about native translators came to my attention showcasing a few features of the Chinese market that brought me to this article.

Drawing inspiration from my colleague Robin, I am going to talk about transcreation and some cases where our cultural differences and perceptions make the approach to a market especially tricky. At the same time, I want us to gain some understanding on why exactly transcreation is quite a task to behold and that sometimes even the best native translator might not be the best transcreator.

Essentials for transcreation

Robin speaking here: “I would say that for transcreation jobs, the cultural understanding is more important than perfect language skills — a British guy who lives in China for ten years could have a great understanding of the tea culture there — but a Chinese guy who lives in Europe for ten years could have that knowledge as well, right?

I think if we can make that distinction between cultural knowledge vs language knowledge, this point becomes more clear.”

Natives vs Non-natives

There are numerous cases where we would aim to use native translators and this is going to work in our favor. Let’s take some of the main languages like Chinese, Japanese or Korean for that matter – certain texts and materials do need to have a very good understanding of the subtleties that lie in the culture itself. In these cases, it is important that the translator grasp to transmit the right message to the target audience.

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But back to the topic at hand

When NOT to use a native translator

native translatorsUsually, we choose the native translators so they can blend in their local knowledge into the translation and we want to sound closer and understandable to the target audience in a certain region. It doesn’t matter in this case if we are talking about China, India or Japan. It is one and the same.

Selling popular western products on the Asian markets needs thorough research. The moment when you stumble upon a cultural difference like tea, for example, is when you need to seriously consider what your approach is going to be. That concerns the strategy of producing your translations, too.

One approach would be to hire a fancy marketing company to do most of the copywriting, design ads, etc. But if you are on a budget, here is my solution:

Require a non-native translator to do the job of translating your materials and then negotiate for a native translator to do the final edit. Why?

The non-native translator will have the cultural perceptions of the west and thus a better understanding of what your product entails. That would make the product translation far more easy and relevant when it comes to the message it has to bring to the audience.

The second step, where a native translator will just polish the language, is going to give you the right sound for the purpose. That way the text will be checked for the subtle and tricky tone of voice and cultural subtleties that a non-native speaker might misinterpret.

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In conclusion

I know it is a strange kind of theory on my side, especially when all the talk is about native translators being the biggest asset of a translation company. However, sometimes what is important when it comes to advising our clients is to find the best solution. The biggest challenge is to meet their expectations and if that means using a non-native translator to do the job, why not?

The thing is that we need to be flexible. After all, if thinking out of the box makes a better solution for our client, isn’t this what we are looking for?

Special thanks to Robin for always being creative, challenging and making special efforts with each and every partner of ours.