Literal or localised – almost the same thing

Is a good translation a literal translation ?

Should your translated text say exactly the same things as the original ?

Localisation – or the art of saying almost the same thing

I have had clients who tried to second guess my translations by looking for the source (english) wording in the target (french) sentence. They never find it and they end up questioning whether I’m saying exactly the same thing. And the answer is invariably: “Almost”.

If you want a literal translation, you don’t need a translator – any machine translation will do the job – but you won’t be understood either. There is a lot more to translation and copy writing than words. Local jargon, cultural knowledge, industry research, tone of voice, syntax – all of this falls under the term “localisation” and basically implies that the translation will convey the same meaning, in a similar tone as the source text, but no, it won’t say exactly the same.

I always use the example of the frog in your throat. In France, people complain of having a cat in their throat, and that’s how it should be translated to avoiding sounding odd. So, it’s almost the same, but not quite.