18. January 2017

The five truths of storytelling: How does the translation of blog articles work?

Blog articles are something with which I have had increasing contact over the last 18 months through my corporate customers in the IT industry. They serve a specific purpose: corporate blogging. Corporate blogging has become an important online communication tool. It allows companies to speak directly to customers and promotes bilateral dialogue using features like the comments function. In fact, corporate blogs are now so ubiquitous, they have evolved into several sub-types. The most important being:

Product/brand blogs: These are mainly about the company’s products and services and are written with the goal of strengthening the image of the product and brand. The idea is to reinforce loyalty among existing customers as well as attract new ones.

Customer service blogs: Companies use customer service blogs to offer their customers added value over conventional customer service. Customers get answers to known issues as well as helpful information on how to get more out of their product.

Companies have stories to tell

For IT businesses and software manufacturers, blogs and social media are important elements of their marketing concepts. As such, they take a very professional approach. An editorial team will regularly write articles on current topics, ensuring a liberal sprinkling of facts and figures on the company, products, current trends or helpful tips and tricks.

And they’re very good at storytelling. Dry, boring articles are few and far between. Rather, they create exciting short stories that convey specialist information in all manner of ways – they’ll keep you in suspense, they’ll make you laugh, and they’re always a joy to read. The audience, by which I mean existing and potential customers, are completely drawn in and their attention is rewarded with an entertaining story. It’s a sure-fire way to get customers to identify with the product and the company – and fast.

5 steps to translating blog articles well

Having a multi-lingual blog can help IT companies to reach even an even greater readership. That’s where I come in – hooray! My job is to translate the English blog articles into German. Easier said than done. It calls for some careful balancing of my technical translator and literary translator caps.

The translation of blog articles is subject to an entirely different set of rules than, say, technical instruction manuals:

Step 1: Read and interpret

I start by reading the entire article through from start to finish. Then, I take a stab at a first rough draft, often adopting a kind of interpretation technique. I use voice recognition software (such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking) to speak into the computer – without any long breaks – to get the first rough version in German onto paper. I find that interpretation is important for the storytelling process. Talking out loud forces me to re-tell the story in my own tongue – from introduction through to conclusion, including the build up of suspense, the dramatic turn of events, and the twist at the end.

Step 2: Research and cluster

This is where I start researching the technical terminology in more detail. In some cases, I need to gain a better understanding by reading up on the subject. Where certain terms appear multiple times throughout the text, I search for synonyms, expressions and suitable metaphors. I note these down in word clusters – at this stage with little regard to the original.

Take a common word like ‘Vorteil’, for example. The first thought among the German speakers of us is pretty likely to be ‘advantage’. But there are so many great alternatives to choose from: benefit, positive aspect, pro, bull’s eye, edge, strength, raison d’être, ace up one’s sleeve, silver bullet, strong suit, fruitful, to cash in on, to convince, to shine… and many more.

A word cluster is an unsorted mind map. All synonyms, antonyms, expressions, etc. relating to a key word or phrase are noted down. It helps the translator to introduce variety into translations and reviews. The image shows German word clusters for the terms ‘off-the-peg software’ and ‘tailored software’. Word clusters offer quick access to a range of options and ways of paraphrasing these terms when they crop up in the original text.

Step 3: Sand and polish

Once the technical terms have been researched and the word clusters are ready, the text gets reviewed. I read through every single sentence in the original and edit the written version of my spoken translation. Some sentences will sound great and only need a bit of tweaking, while others will be scrapped and completely re-worked. Once I reach the end of the text, I go back to the beginning and start again. It’s not unusual to go through the text two or three times during this step.

Step 4: Read and be read to

This is where I put the translation to one side and do something else. I leave it overnight before going back and reading the translated version through once again. Usually out loud. Then on paper. Any bits that don’t flow properly will be re-done. The important part is making sure I’ve used well-balanced wording, that the sentences are linked coherently, that the metaphors and figures of speech work well, and that the sentence structure flows.

Step 5: Order and re-order

This is where I rely on my gut feeling. I go back and re-do any sentences that still sound slightly odd or ‘translated’. Last, but not least, I check the internal logic of the article and the order in which information is presented. If I feel it is necessary, I will move around sentences and paragraphs or reposition parts of the text.

Reference sources:

Some good sources include Leipzig University’s corpora collection and the free thesauruses Woxikon and OpenThesaurus. The ACADEMIC dictionary of German words and slang is a great help, and the RHYME dictionary of rhyming terms can be indispensable.

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