Once a word is printed or appears on a screen, it is open to interpretation.
Choosing the right word is a creative act, because writing is subjective and there are many word choices to pick from to convey the right message. Understanding the impact of these words on the other hand, is a more logical and rational process. Who will be reading them? What is their cultural background? How would they understand these words?
It is common knowledge that we use the left side of our brains to make creative decisions – and many of these decisions are put out there for the world to judge. An artist paints a picture, a writer pens an article, or a musician composes a tune. All of these artistic acts take place with an audience in mind, but it is rare that they are specifically tailored towards being interpreted in a certain way. In these types of creative activity, the left brain rules.
When reason has to shape the path of your creativity, things get decidedly trickier. You might even ask whether creativity in a straightjacket can be called creativity anymore?
Translation is one industry where initial creativity has to be tempered with sound logic.
The logical right part of our brain has to keep the left brain in check, but for the best possible translations, it cannot snuff out the creative part of the brain altogether.
Especially when transcreating for an international purpose, you have to consider the logical conclusion of how a piece of writing will be understood. Translation software can come up with some fantastic creative choices (yes, robots can be creative too), but actually it is only the native translator who will read through a passage and ask:
Does this make sense? Will the audience understand what we want them to understand?
Great translation starts with creativity and finishes with logic.
Conveying a message to a Chinese audience in China requires different idioms in your message than conveying the same message to a Chinese audience in Australia. You come up with a creative solution, but at the end of every piece of work you have to ask that simple question. How will my intended audience understand these words? If you can’t come up with an objective and informed answer, you will have to go back to the drawing board.
As an owner of an international translation agency, I need to stay close to my clients so that I understand what their intentions are and what they want their words to achieve. In a way, I have to become an extension of my clients and pick translation teams that my clients would trust.
The reason is simple: our international teams of translators and revisers are entrusted with the most important task of all, and that is to translate and revise to the best of their ability and to make the logical decision of whether a translation will be suitable for its intended audience.
This is a key consideration when we talk to clients – we have to understand their audience and how they want them to be impacted. Without this understanding, we will be translating in the dark – our left brains might enjoy it, but our right brains won’t have a clue what is going on.
At the end of the day, logic is what ensures that a translation is as good as it can be.