how to write and translate in English

Writing and translating are two different activities that have quite a lot in common. In order to grab the attention of the readers, the author needs a text that is easily understandable, informative and maintains a certain tone from the beginning to the end. If the language that you use is English, there are certain tips that can help you achieve the desired results. 

Below we have gathered some tips that will help you improve your writing and translation skills. They are easy to follow and applicable to all sorts of texts.  

How to Keep Text Translation-Friendly 

Whether you write a piece with the intention to have it translated or not, it is important to produce a text that is clear and concise and evokes no ambiguity. This is a special skill that can be acquired and improved in time. Writing clear and understandable texts is very important especially for documents. The European Commission has prepared a manual called Claire’s Clear Writing Tips to help EU staff write clear texts in English. It is an addition to the How to Write Clearly guide, which is available in all EU languages.  

The advice given in Claire’s Clear Writing Tips are applicable to texts that are written with the knowledge that they will be translated in several languages. Document translation is a challenging task, since the translator needs to render a clear message in a formal tone, presenting all legal, financial or other peculiarities of the text. Therefore, it is important to have a clearly written text in English, which doesn’t make you question the meaning of a given phrase, sentence or paragraph. Here are some of Claire’s Clear Writing Tips that can help you produce such texts: 

  • Keep it short and simple (KISS) – the KISS principle is one of the first that every learner of English as a foreign language learns. There is no need to have long, complex sentences with several ideas and tons of jargon in them. Whenever possible, split the sentence into two or three having just one idea in each separate sentence. Avoid ambiguous phrases and replace complex jargon words or expressions with everyday language; 
  • Don’t use too many nouns – it is better to replace excess nouns with verbs whenever possible. Thus, the sentence is often shorter and much clearer; 
  • Be specific – replace abstract and vague expressions with concrete ideas. This will make the text more meaningful, clearer and shorter; 
  • Avoid passive verbs – it is always better to choose active verbs than passive. This makes the sentences simpler and the meaning clearer (who did what not what was done by whom); 
  • Be careful with jargon – jargon is something that is used by a group of people in a given organization or industry. If you want your text to be clearly understood by the general public, it is better to avoid using jargon words. Whenever you need to use one, make sure that you have explained it first; 
  • Always clarify acronyms and abbreviations the first time you use them; 
  • Beware of false friends – these are words that look the same in different languages but have a different meaning.  

These seven principles are very useful and quite easy to follow when you start writing a text. Make sure to keep them handy and stick to them any time you write a document, especially if it is going to be translated afterwards. Thus, you will have a clear and concise English text that will be easily understood and properly translated into any foreign language.  

How to Write Concise Translations in English 

If you are a translator whose work language is English, the above tips will be very useful if you want to provide your clients with clear and concise translations. Here are a few more suggestions on how you can improve your English translations: 

  • Keep sentences brief – even if the original sentence is longer you can always split it into two for more clarity; 
  • Use standard English word order – (modifier) subject + (modifier) verb + (modifier) object;  
  • Avoid too many prepositional phrases – instead of prepositions use possessive expressions or adverbs;  
  • Use a single term to address a given concept – when you introduce a term, stick to it instead of playing with synonyms. This will contribute to the greater clarity of the text; 
  • Be careful with numbers – there is a difference in writing September 5 with numbers in British and American English, for example. Always pay attention.
  • Differentiate between British and American English spelling – while there will be no problems with understanding the word regardless of its spelling, it is necessary to have it written properly depending on the target audience. This part of the localization of the text that takes place while translating. 
  • Use simple vocabulary – use simple, common words whenever possible instead of unnecessarily advanced or complex vocabulary. Instead of adding to the meaning, the more complex words may cause confusion.

Following the above tips will significantly improve the final results of your writing and translating efforts. Knowing how to write clearly is an important asset and it is never too late to add this skill, especially if you are dealing with translation. It is one of the essential skills that you need to have in order to establish yourself as a professional and win the trust of your clients.

SourceClaire’s Clear Writing Tips, European Commission

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