Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Social Media: What we’ve got here is ‘failure to translate’
November 20, 2009 - By: - In: Translation - 13 comments

Social media doesn’t seem to translate… professionally that is.

Facebook was translated by members, with amateurish results, and when LinkedIn announced they were going the same route, we pros were outraged, as reported in the paper of record, aka NYT.

Translate tweets? There are a couple of applications that do a machine-based translation, and one single-pass human translation resource that I know of, but there doesn’t really seem to be much space in that space for the traditional translation agency TEP model (Translate, Edit, Proof for the uninitiated).

And that’s only the beginning ― I’ll spare you the dirty laundry list of ‘failure to translate.’

I was speaking about this with Joseph Kingsbury, social media practice lead for Text 100.  Joe is one of those hot-shot new media guys who are rewriting the rules for the communications industry.  I was asking him about how translation worked (or didn’t) in the new media.

Where translation services once slipped nicely into the old-timey media workflow, the wagging tail just before the press run, social media doesn’t flow just so. In a social world, the best content is as viral as swine flu, self-accreting, self-organizing, and self-timed.  In other words, absolutely out of the control of the traditional way of doing business. Content is written and digested on the fly, highly idiomatic, devoid of context, and localized to the point of being personalization. Deep insider knowledge of subject and local culture in real time are required to translate.

This makes outsourcing a challenge, since that kind of expertise is rare, and short timelines make it even more of a challenge. The extra time and expense involved in creating translation that doesn’t read like translation is outside the usual translation agency workflow.  It is usually left to chance or by the wayside, much to the irritation of agency clients and the contempt of end-users.

We have some clients who have worked it out, and I’ve got a story or two about getting some of our geezer translators to rip it up on skateboards, but maybe I’m just whistling past the graveyard.

Because style errors in translation can always be addressed. But if social media is about social networks, and social networks are about community, social media may just remain monolingual. Even in multi-lingual communities, there is always a strong preference for one language, and the Web 2.0 makes it a snap.  What would Cool Hand Luke say?

LiveZilla Live Chat Software