Posted by: Manuel Delgado | June 17, 2008


One approach suggested by some experts to minimize errors in creating Spanish copy from English materials it to have “roundtrip translations”: have the content translated into Spanish by one company, and then back into English by somebody else.

By doing this, the theory goes; you really make sure that the translation is accurate.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.

While round-trip translation may make sense for legal documents or technical materials, the “untranslation” process breaks down when used in marketing communications for a simple reason: round trip translation starts and ends with the document. It’s very “internal”. It doesn’t take into consideration the audience of the message, the marketing tone or the overall intent of the copy.

What’s more: sometimes great transcreations will fail the round trip test. Here’s an example from the Sports section of the Houston Chronicle. A recent headline read:

Club America and Atlas advance to next stage of Copa America

On the Spanish edition of the same diary, the headline of the story was:

Rojinegros ganan; América empata

Translating that phrase back into English would have been “Red-and-blacks win, America ties.” The naïve marketing manager would either be utterly confused, or assume racial connotations.

The Spanish headline takes into consideration the audience. Not only who they are, but what they know.

The soccer fans reading the newspaper will know that the nickname for the team “Tigres del Atlas” is the “red-and-blacks,” or “rojinegros,” because of the traditional colors of their uniform.

Using the nickname of the team is a clever way to connect with the intended audience.

Now, if you really want to validate that the message survived the localization process, don’t embark in “untranslating.” Just test your message in the same way you test your mainstream marketing communications: ask the audience.

Focus groups or very short interviews can provide valuable information about potential issues or needed changes to the content. In this way you’ll dramatically improve the odds that your Hispanic customers will understand you, “get” you and buy from you.


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