The target audience of any translation project is the most crucial piece of data a translation professional can receive.
Freelance translation work is always challenging. Sometimes this challenge comes from the difficulty of the work itself – dense pieces of text that require careful unpacking and even more careful re-packing into the target language. Often the challenge comes, however, from figuring out the right approach to a particular translation project. You often have to battle through vague briefs on your project delivered by the client, non-communicative clients who seem to think part of your translation service is clairvoyance of some sort, and your own assumptions, which almost always turn out to be dead wrong.
I have developed a strategy, however, that cuts through some of this problem. I like strategies that simplify my life, and this one is perfect: In any translation project I work on, I concentrate on knowing what the target audience is.
The Audience is the Message
The fact is, any translation project I take on, I know a few things with a certainty: I know the target and source languages incredibly well, otherwise no one would hire me for the work and I wouldn’t accept the job if they did. I know I have the technological tools to handle the work, because I’m a modern-day translation professional, and if I lack a tool that seems necessary I will acquire it. And I know as many particulars from the client as possible concerning schedule and other requirements.
The one thing I often am not told, but which is vital, is the target audience. In fact, the most important bit of prep work I do these days is assailing my client contact with requests for information about my target audience over and over again until they finally supply it. The target audience is vital because they will determine the most important three aspects of my translation.
One, the target audience will determine my vocabulary choices to a great degree. If I am translating for a technical audience, I’ll endeavour to translate all of the technical terms as accurately and precisely as possible in the expectation that they will understand. If the audience is to be more general, I will go in the other direction and choose more ‘layman’s’-style translations. The more I know about the audience, the better I can be: If, for example, I know the materials I’m working on will be going to a sales team in another country, I can adapt my vocabulary to include the sorts of terms salespeople understand.
Secondly, the target audience will determine the tone of the final translation, as well. As the translation professional, I have total control over the tone of the finished product, and the people who will be reading it are the best determinator of what that tone should be – whether cold and professional or more folksy, or with a lot of frills and unnecessary rhetorical flourishes. Personally I like the latter best – but I don’t always get to choose!
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