In Part One of this blog, we discussed the importance of understanding when it comes to video localization. We also suggested a safe way to ensure the best understanding and interpretation of your message: to create a neutralized script and submit it with your original script. Think of it as a skeleton: the bones are your culture-free sentences, and the meat will be added by your culture-savvy translator.
So finally, here are the main aspects you need to watch out for. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but at a minimum, you should consider these.
Clarity leads to understanding
First and foremost, you need to make sure your message is clear. Paraphrase every line in your script to make them easy to understand.
- Eliminate ambiguity: Replace words or phrases that have multiple possible meanings.
- Break up complex sentences: Reduce confusion by creating shorter sentences that express only one idea each.
- Avoid long modifier strings: The more words modifying one word, the less clear the reference is. Phrase like “the International Classified Data Control Center” create confusion: what is international? The data or the center? Paraphrase it as “the Control Center for International Classified Data.”
- Clarify passive voice sentences: If possible, rewrite passive sentences as active sentences or clarify who the agent really is.
Cut down on dependencies: Make sure the meaning of words and expressions is not dependent on context (especially on the video’s visual context).
- Change lists into self-sufficient sentences: Item lists that are a continuation of an introductory phrase (e.g., “Make sure you:” expects the list items to start with a verb) may not be appropriate for the TL structure.
- Provide synonyms for slang and colloquialisms: These that can easily be misunderstood. For example, say “making an outstanding contribution” or “achieving your goal” rather than “hitting a homerun.”
- Replace phrasal verbs with pure verbs: For example, use “stop it” instead of “cut it out.”
- Clarify dates: In the “mm/dd/yyyy” date format, days up to 12 can be confusing since many countries use the “dd/mm/yyyy” format.
- Spell out the month to be clear (03/March/2018).
- Explain abbreviations and acronyms: Spell out all abbreviations and always use international standards (3-letter ISO currency codes, for example).
- Be consistent: Use the same terms for the same concepts, avoid synonyms whenever possible.
- Keep it simple: Replace unusual words with commonly used words whenever possible.
A universal frame of mind
Once you’ve tackled these details in your script, you then need to consider the cultural sensitivities. And the best way to achieve that is to think universal. What do all humans share and understand regardless of language and culture?
- Be sensitive: Make sure to eliminate potentially offensive references and use neutral, culturally sensitive language.
- Forget wordplay: Words that rhyme or relate to each other in one language most likely won’t work in another language. Explain the intended effect of the word play so the translator can find a good alternative within the target language (TL) culture.
- Rewrite humorous content: What is funny to one culture may not be to another, or the humor may be too intrinsically related to the source language (SL) culture or current events. Explain the intended meaning of any humorous remarks or funny stories so the translator can adapt it to the TL culture appropriately.
- Clarify any reference to sports: If the translator is not familiar with American football, s/he may not quite understand what you mean by, “He finished his presentation in the fourth down.” You can paraphrase it as “He finished his presentation in the last minute.”
- Suggest alternatives for customs: If not tied to visuals, suggest replacements for culturally-specific foods, clothes, sports, mode of transportation, etc.
- Suggest options for political and religious references: Politics and religion are intrinsically local. For “Republicans would like to see a tax cut,” suggest “The conservative party would like to see a tax cut.” Instead of “Christmas,” use “the Holidays.”
- Explain idioms: Idioms are derived from culture and rarely have direct translations. Explain what your intended meaning is. For example, paraphrase “I can do with a hand” as “I need some help.”
Get back to basics: spell it out
Make it easy for the translator to understand your script. Using standard grammar and sentence structure is very important. Here are a few considerations.
- Fix the mechanics: Make sure agreement (subject-verb, pronouns, relative pronouns, etc.) is correct and contraction elements are obvious (e.g., “is” vs. “has” in “x’s”).
- Complete incomplete sentences and fragments: Make it clear what fragments refer to and/or provide a full sentence.
- Clarify references: Replace pronouns with nouns or names and clarify what demonstrative pronouns (this, those) refer to. Don’t omit the relative pronoun/conjunction “that” or “who” (the car that I bought…).
- Use punctuation appropriately: A comma in the wrong place can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Make sure you have all – and only – the punctuation marks that are needed, and use them according to standard grammar.
Walk a mile in the translator’s shoes
Think about it: if you have to read a sentence several times to understand it, the translator will most likely be confused as well.
In addition to the details above, consider any other known issues that may impact translation. For example, an important consideration is expansion or contraction resulting from translation. Different languages have different lengths, both in terms of words and language structure (some use more or fewer prepositions and articles, for example). If certain words can be omitted to shorten any sentences, indicate so. At the very minimum, let the translator know there may be space or timing issues.
And don’t leave it till the last minute! Since they most likely contain creative content, scripts may take longer to translate than you anticipate.
Ultimately, put yourself in your translator’s shoes. Video is your fast-track ticket to global markets, but your translator holds the power to get you there. Make sure s/he has the right map.