Read this before you start translating

Starting a new translation project and not sure how to prepare and where to begin? Uncertain which tone of voice should be adapted in the target language? Need some tips on essential research and resources for translation projects? Look no further: What, why, who and how – 4 questions you should ask before you start translating.


What does your client do? Do they develop cloud software or create a clothing line? Do they sell beer or manufacture beds? Before you start translating, make sure you familiarise yourself with the product or service your client offers and do your research. Have a look at competitors with a similar target market. How do they present themselves internationally, if at all? If your client has already translated their website or any other documents that are accessible to you, read them and get a feeling for their tone of voice in the target language.


What is your client trying to achieve? Are they launching a new car model abroad or trying to sell eco-friendly nappies to a wider audience? Or maybe they are trying to increase their conversion rates for website visitors in Germany or France (NB People are six times more likely to buy from a website in their mother tongue!!). Find out why your client is translating their website, app or marketing collateral.. If you understand their aim, it’s easier for you to decide which tone of voice (formal/colloquial) or translation style (e.g. creative translation for marketing copy) to adopt.


Who is your client trying to talk to? Find out who your client’s customers are. Are these end consumers (B2C) or business customers (B2B)? Again, this is absolutely essential for tone of voice and for the delivery of an effective translation. Think about the specific target audience. Imagine for example a manufacturer of children’s products: Does their English marketing copy address the children, or the parents who will ultimately buy the product for them? Or maybe it’s a mixture of both? What would be more culturally appropriate in the target language? Discuss any cultural implications before the start of the project. Check out the French website for our client Worlds Apart to see how we’ve translated their children’s products.


How does your client want to come across? This is equally important for tone of voice as it is for translation style. Do they prefer a friendly and conversational style, or a more professional and formal tone of voice? And would their style work in the target language. You should ask your client for any reference materials that will help you craft the right translation with suitable language tools. If the client has a style guide, brand guidelines or a writing guide for English, then ask for it as it will help you to familiarise yourself with their intended style. Do bear in mind that the English language can get away with a lot more “vagueness” when addressing an audience than for example German and French. At the core of any translation into these languages should be the question whether to address the reader formally (Sie/Vous) or informally (Du/Tu). You might need to use the grammatical formal tone because it is more appropriate but you can still make the translation sound light and fun.

Our client Glisten Camping for instance, who offers holidays in eco-friendly dome tents in the South of France, wanted to appeal to their audience in a warm and friendly tone. We used the formal tone for the French website translation because it’s more appropriate when addressing adults but we kept the tone of the translations light-hearted, warm and fun to stay on brand. Check out their French website to get an idea of the tone of voice we’ve used.

For further advise on how to craft effective and beautiful translations check out our post Top 5 copywriting tips for translators.