They both end in “-ion.” But what exactly are the differences between “translation” and “adaptation”? The key resides in the liminal space between “words” and “meaning.”
We regularly have clients who bring us translated content and tell us it “won’t work.” It’s awful! I can’t understand what it’s saying! How will I ever present this?! Maybe they have a Powerpoint deck they asked translators to translate, and maybe those translators did, in fact, translate the deck. Where, then, is the disconnect?
Unrealistic expectations can be a major downfall when it comes to translated work. Clients naturally want content to be creative and original, and they think that asking for translation will be enough. The reality is that translators are paid (per word) to translate hundreds of strings of words in a short period of time. They are not instructed or paid to creatively approach content in a way that will appeal to the client’s market. They are paid to translate, not to adapt.
Adaptation can sometimes be what clients think they’re asking for when they ask for translation. We recently had a client come to us with a deck that had been translated from French to English. In the final product, there were expressions that didn’t quite make sense in English; some of the word choices were confusing; and a few of the references weren’t resonating. They had paid for a translation, but what they actually needed was adaptation. The content needed to be translated, yes, but it also needed to be thoroughly vetted for cultural nuances that would dictate an audience’s understanding.
So, how do we avoid unpresentable decks and disappointed clients? Communication is key. We work diligently to gain an understanding of the clients’ goals and expectations. The more transparent our communication, the better. Who’s your target audience? What’s the desired tone of your content? What are the specific pain points you need us to address? What can be especially helpful is when our clients prepare creative briefs, in which they outline: which concepts they like; which concepts they don’t like; and what they’re hoping to gain from our services. We can then match the content we produce to the client’s expectations.
It’s not just the client’s job to be clear! We also need to openly communicate what we do and how we do it. For example, we’ll explain what translations are, what they can and cannot do, and any and all limitations surrounding translations. We’ll then explain what’s necessary for adaptation, and how adaptation will elevate their offerings. We want to be an extension of your team, which necessitates us understanding your team and its goals as thoroughly as you do.
Only once we’ve communicated can we adapt.