Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Translators are like glue

Pic of man's hands applying glue with brush for next sheet of wallpaper
Applying the glue behind the visual c. Patryk Kosmider

Professional translators are like glue... invisible glue. 

The aim is to make the join between two cultures as seamless as possible. 

It is easy to underestimate the value of a wordsmith's contribution to a marketing campaign. You don't see all the deliberations over the right term, tone or phrasing. Yet, without a translator's considered input, even the most brilliantly creative visuals can fall flat... or worse.

A pharmaceutical crisis
The importance of the glue reminds me of my first job at the UK sales agency of French glass manufacturers' Saint-Gobain Desjonquères. I worked for the pharmaceutical bottle division. 

One day, a buyer at one of our major pharmaceutical customers called urgently. Labels would not stick to our competitors' bottles. They had changed the coating specification.

It was a nightmarish situation for our customer. The production line was down and wasting money. Product was ready, but without viable containers. Orders were stacking up.

I arranged for the urgent delivery of all our existing factory stock. I also booked urgent new production runs with my French colleagues. 

I don't remember the exact figures now. I do remember dispatching millions of extra bottles to a very grateful customer that year.

The crisis came about because of poor bonding between the coating, glue and label.

Tales of woe  
The internet is littered with tales of woe because someone has cut corners with translation. Some brand-damaging stories are still shared decades later (as my old story above). Social media spreads these tales faster than ever before.

Choose the best
Many translators love to share these stories as examples of what can happen without their professional services. Personally, I prefer to try and demonstrate the positive. However, it isn't easy to see the glue when the bond is good. It is easy to think an alternative, cheaper solution might work ... until a crisis strikes.

Don't come unstuck. Stick with a professional translator.

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