“A Journey to Global E-commerce” (©David Nixon at DHL): Translator’s View

Screenshot of the presentation by David Nixon, Director of Regional Sales for Scotland and Northern Ireland at DHL


This talk was organised by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and delivered by the Director of Regional Sales of DHL David Nixon. I thank all the parties involved, especially David for his brilliant insight into the world of online trade. It was a memorable and highly productive morning.

Although I attended this event as a business owner rather than as a linguist, I could not resist sharing my reflections here, at “Translator’s Corner”. If for no other reason — simply because good quality translation is fundamental to global success of e-commerce.

With so many angles and nuances covered during the talk, the issue of translation cropped up very briefly and, like many times before, I saw it humbly submerging to the ocean bed of the diversity of questions that seemed more significant.

However, I am a linguist, I am a translator — and here I will attempt to bring it back in the hope to give it the place it deserves.

So, what is translation in the world of global commerce? Which place should it occupy? Should it be an auxiliary tool? Would machine translation do the job?

Dale Carnegie once said: “There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”

In the context of e-commerce this could be translated into: what we sell, how our product/ website looks, what message carries our website, promotional material and even day-to-day business correspondence and, most importantly, how that message is delivered and perceived, what is the tone, the style, i.e. what is the impact on the reader.

Translating websites nowadays is frequently referred to as “localization”. “Do you do localization?” — I am often asked by my prospective clients. In most cases, however, the meaning of the word “localization” is used as a synonym to website translation.

As a translator I can quite confidently say that there is a degree of localization in every text that I translate. Localizing (or domesticating, as referred to by Professor Lawrence Venuti) is a highly complex process and includes volumes of knowledge and expertise. These comprise in-depth knowledge of the target market, culture, target-readership specific linguistic nuances — to name just few.

Communication is a key to success. How many people would disagree with this statement? We spend ages and employ entire marketing departments to find the right tone and message that would appeal to our clients. Yet when it comes to translating those we feel that machine translation via search engine tools would do the job. We use robots to translate corporate correspondence and then we are surprised why relationships with our corporate partners / customers / suppliers do not realise the potential we hoped for.

I wonder if there are statistical data to draw a correlation between the quality of translation and the success of cross-cultural trade. Here I used “cultural” intentionally: because we do not translate words – we translate culture. When we communicate in our native language we interweave the entire knowledge of our culture into every chat, no matter how casual it may be. We do it subconsciously, but it is that element that builds bridges between us and allows us to form business and personal relationships.

To produce the same “rapport” across cultures is a sensitive and a delicate matter. How do you deliver your message in the right tone and not miss anything that is between the lines? How do you bring your culture to your target reader?

This is the job of the translator — of that “boring bookworm” who sits all days with dictionaries (paper and online), surfing over the Internet, ploughing through books, newspaper articles (tabloids and broadsheets alike) to access and assess the most recent linguistic trends and developments. A linguist, who can upon your request “re-tailor” your source text and make it irresistible to your target audience — whether these are teenagers or middle-class housewives, professionals or amateurs, football fans or animal lovers.

Meticulously and artfully that translator pulls apart your source text analysing every element of it beyond what you can ever imagine (including your slips and errors). Then a target text is born — it emerges from the depth of the richness of the target language and culture, containing only what seems just right to impress, compel and mesmerise your target reader.

Communication is a key to success. The translator is a key to cross-cultural communication. Therefore at the heart of your prosperous and far-reaching global e-commerce — is a humble translator, who is that ship that will sail across the ocean of questions and issues to deliver what you want to say to your customers across the Globe!

If you are embracing a journey to global e-commerce — do it in the company of a good translator!

Liudmila Tomanek

Russian Translation World Ltd


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Translators Corner

Text: ©2018 Liudmila Tomanek


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