Lost in Translation – Izgubljen v Prevodu

Writing copy using documents and website material in translation for reference? I am, at the moment—and while it’s cause for some amusement, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world.

Lost in Translation

To be noted:

  1. I’m not having to translate from Chinese (it’s an English translation of Slovenian.)
  2. I’m not pretending I can translate accurately (especially not from Slovenian!) or that translation is easy—it’s just that if you represent a company wanting to market something in another country, why not make sure that the words you use actually make sense in their language?

Just to illustrate my lack of linguistic ability, when my dear son, Laurie, was in hospital in Grenoble, after a catastrophic snowboarding accident (broken neck) – I caused some bemusement and amusement to the medical staff there, after the operation to fix his shattered vertebrae, by informing them that Laurie was also suffering from ‘douleur terrible dans sa poignée’… terrible pain in his doorhandle… What I MEANT to say, was ‘douleur terrible dans son poignet’… terrible pain in his wrist. See, lost in translation.

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So – back to Slovenian. Some of the notable phrases used to entice us to buy the product (a sort of resin-based worksurface) were:

“DISGUISE OF MODERNITY!”

wala-eh“Warmly hugging your customers and never letting them indifferent.”

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“Various stains of food and cleaners you can easily wipe.”

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While I can make sense of some of it…errrm, disguise of modernity? DEFINITELY lost in translation.

In other work I’ve encountered, this time English from Italian, apparently one farmhouse had three bedrooms for guests to dispose of. That was comparitively easy to work out. And did you know that, in China, CocaCola in translation came out rather bizarrely as Bite The Wax Tadpole?

It can be appealing, and sometimes, when I’m editing copy, I let quirky syntax and off-beat translations remain, as long as the sense is clear.  It adds character, and makes for interesting reading when copy can sometimes be so very DULL. Not when I write it myself, of course, she adds hastily.

Let me finish with my favourite YouTube clip, to illustrate the point that SOMETIMES it’s important to translate accurately.

(Other language schools are available!)

Now, in my very best Slovenian, let me say, ‘Bodite previdni pri prevodih!’ which I THINK means ‘Be careful with translations!’

But it might not.

Blog writers – do as I say, not as I do.

The confession of a blog writer.

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Got it?

Anyone who’s had the (dubious?) pleasure of working with me will remember very clearly what I always say about blogs. I say, with such authority, ‘If you’re going to have a blog on your website, you MUST provide new blogs on a regular basis. Nothing looks worse, when you open up someone’s website, than to see a blog which is months or even years old.’

Or centuries.

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SO – here we have my website. The date is April 5th, 2017. The two latest blogs are dated February 7th, 2017 (JUST about acceptable) and November 22nd, 2016.

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How very embarrassing!

I could spend hours justifying this lapse in my own professional standards, in a ‘the dog ate my homework’ sort of way, but I won’t waste your time or mine. It’s rather the same as doctors not looking after their own health or builders being the last people on earth to finish those DIY projects at home.

In honesty, my blogs are for entertainment and to add fresh copy to my website, with the idea that I get plenty of Google brownie points and am bumped up the rankings. Is this last point true or is it one of those urban myths put about by…whoever? I suppose blog writers like me who want more business! It’s really a hiding to nothing to update simply for the sake of updating. The aim should be to update in a timely manner in a way which gives benefit to your users – more traffic, increased engagement and fresh links…

 

Here are the conclusions to some research I’ve done in relation to blog writing:

  • Initially, a web page can be given a “freshness” score based on its inception date, which decays over time.
  • The amount of change on your web page plays a role – the more you change content, the more likely Google is to notice it, especially if it’s in the body text.
  • The more often you change the content, the better.
  • Think about adding completely new pages rather than just refreshing old ones.
  • Go for as many relevant links as possible, especially from sites that are themselves fresh.

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    Blog, blog, blog…

 

 

 

Why do I blog?

Because I enjoy it. Because I like entertaining people. Because it’s a way of practising my writing skills. Because it’s a way people can see what I do and how I do it. I have been given work on the strength of my blogs – their style and tone is not for everyone but it IS for some people. I don’t blog to sell anything – except perhaps myself. (No double entendre intended!)

Why should YOU blog?

Here’s what the experts say:

1) To drive traffic to your website.

2) To convert that traffic into leads.

3) To help establish authority.

4) To drive long-term results.

 

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And if you DON’T like doing it, then you could always ask me.

I LOVE IT!

Yes, do as I say, not as I do…

Simple is really hard. Really, REALLY hard.

Oh, I do love a paradox. Except, to say ‘simple is really hard’ isn’t one when it comes to copywriting. Even if your clients disagree with you. Those clients who give you an A4 page of densely written text and ask you to make it into a three-word slogan for them…(this has happened to me).

Yeah, yeah – the physical act of writing three words only takes a few milliseconds. Actually CREATING three words which adequately and engagingly sum up three hundred words takes A Lot Of Time. As my mate Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” So it’s not just me. You might not believe me, but surely Steve Jobs’ opinions have some credence?

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It’s not a new idea, either. Good old Gustave Flaubert said, in a coffee break while writing Madame Bovary, “To be simple is no small matter.” That must have been before 1880, which is the year he died. Unless he channelled something through a spiritual medium at a later date.

There are some brilliant examples of simple copywriting out there, in my opinion – and don’t forget that Steve Jobs and I are practically joined at the mental hip.

Take innocent. Not even a capital letter there. Yes, it’s simple, clean, no-nonsense, uncluttered. All of which absolutely matches their philosophy and their product and it’s further mirrored in their branding and design.

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Look at their site navigation too – and the font they use:

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It must be something about healthy(ish) drinks because the other exemplar for simple copywriting I’d like to highlight is a company called Oatly.

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They’re Swedish but their grasp of simple witty English is second-to-none (well, apart from mine, that is!)

“To say more while saying less is the secret of being simple,” says that world-famous fellow I’ve never heard of, Dejan Stojanovic, from Kosovo.

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Take Oatly Creamy Oat Fraiche:

“So f***ing fraiche. Are we allowed to say that? I really hope so. Well actually you can’t say that word because *** are unpronounceable…”

“It’s a lot like crème fraiche, but we used oats instead of cream to give you a different take on one of the most flexible ingredients in the modern kitchen. Straight up Swedish grown oats that will make whatever you want to make taste great (whatever that tastes like these days).”

Love it. Simple rules okay. The trick is to make the result LOOK simple even if it’s taken your hours of blood, sweat and tears.

And, believe me, (or Steve Jobs if you must) – simple IS hard.

 

 

Tone of voice topicality

“Don’t you speak to me in that tone of voice, young lady!”

Anyone remember that from their childhood? (Well, that’s if you were a young lady ever). Every copywriter has to be pretty damn hot at different tones of voices if they want to be successful, because each job requires something unique.

Tone of voice? But you’re writing, not speaking.  Yes, but writing has just as much in the way of tone of voice as speaking. (Not that I’m talking to myself, you understand. Isn’t that the first sign of madness. Okay, I’m WRITING to myself).

Anyway, there’s what you write (the content) and how you write it (the tone of voice). Tone of voice can kill copy, especially if it’s boring, and kill the message you’re trying to convey and potentially destroy the brand, product or service you’re promoting. No pressure then.

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What tone of voice should you use in your writing? (She’s writing to herself again…)

That’s one of those, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ questions.

The answer? Whichever tone of voice is required. That simple. And that challenging.

This blog is written as me. Yours truly. Caroline Coxon. It’s how my mind works. (Scary, eh?)  It has my personality stamped all over it. Now, what adjectives might you use to describe its tone of voice? Nothing offensive please. Errrm, jokey, random, quirky, flippant, a stream of consciousness (Yes, I know that’s not an adjective) readable, funny, insane…whatever…

That’s fine for me, but would it work for a will-writer, a mortgage adviser, an engineer, a web-designer, someone from a different culture?

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When I say probably not, I mean, there just might be an insane will-writer out there…BUT, most people would say, for their own copy…

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Here, I think this is where my history of writing screenplays, novels and theatre pieces helps me so much. I am completely used to writing – and thinking and speaking – in character. Characters who may be light years away from my own.

I am not a burly 30-something male engineer.

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I’m not a diminutive financial adviser.

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I’m not Scottish.

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But it’s possible for me to write as though I am, using appropriate vocabulary and the right tone of voice. And all those things I have done. And being an Italian wine importer. A high-end caterer. A techie nerd. A business coach. A garage owner. A hairdresser in Newcastle. A ski expert. A global traveller. And a whole lot more.

Me and my multiple personalities, eh?

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But it sure helps with tone of voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the copywriter is rarely seen by her clients…

…she need not dress respectably, to misquote George Bernard Shaw, on the main reason for adopting writing as a profession.

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Ah, clients. I love my clients. On the end of the phone, by email. The occasional meeting just so I know I still exist…when I do dress fairly respectably.

My clients are THE BEST. That’s to say, I am (almost always) appreciated for my work,  I get paid – yaaay – and I very often garner repeat business. I’ve been working with some of my clients for years. And I do say ‘working with’ not ‘working for’ because that’s how I see it – as a partnership.

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Client : A person who pays a professional person or organisation for services’, says Merriam-Webster (except they used a z in organisation, so, true to my British heritage as a copywriter, I corrected it). The definition of client does not, anywhere that I can see, include expecting far too much, far too quickly,  for far too little recompense, with not even an acknowledgement that the work has been received, let alone the courtesy of a thank you. Just sayin’…

So here are some examples of client demands imposed on copywriters and web designers, some of whom are known to me, others came from that excellent website, Clients From Hell.

As a freelancer, especially at the beginning, it’s extremely hard to turn clients down but…

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Honestly, life’s too short to put up with stuff like this:

If you’re going to charge me 40$ an hour to make my website I would like to install a camera in your office so I’m 100% sure you don’t bill me for hours where you’re not working.

I don’t believe you can have taken 6 hours to do this work.  You have single-handedly wiped out all my profits. In future, when you are working for me, you are to text me every hour and tell me what you have achieved in that time,” from a client who asked, at very short notice and out of office hours, for copywriting to be undertaken which involved extensive research, responding to 58 emails, multiple phone calls and a Skype conference, as well as the writing itself.

Why are you so expensive? Don’t you understand that you are discouraging a new company from growing? I have to meet the other partners – we didn’t plan for this huge expense, ” from a client who was invoiced $300 for a logo and 20-page brand manual.

I prefer the copy the length it was before you edited it. I don’t want to cut a single word,” from a client who had written the first draft of copy for a brochure –  long, rambling, repetitive and ungrammatical – and hired a copywriter to edit it, as advised by his graphic designer.  The graphic designer again told the client his copy was too long. “Never mind, we’ll make the font much smaller so it fits into your design.”

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YES – OF COURSE clients can call the shots about how they represent their company, about the approved copy. It’s absolutely their choice, even if it doesn’t read well, look good or do the job for which it was intended. We can only offer advice.

That’s one thing. It’s entirely another thing to be exploited or treated with disrespect by your clients.

Honour yourself, I say. It’s taken me a very long time to get there, to the point where I’m able to say…

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Thank you, my lovely clients, that it’s such a rare occurrence in my working life. You are STARS.

 

 

A good copywriter must be an acrobat

A good copywriter? I suppose copywriters come in many guises. One of these is that they stick to a particular niche in the market and become very knowledgeable about it. Another – and I think this is me – is the copywriter who simply loves words, playing with words and is always curious.

That’s curious like this:

Curious (Pronunciation: /ˈkjʊərɪəs/): Adjective

  1. Eager to know or learn something

Not this:

    2. Strange, unusual

Although probably 2 applies as well  (but that’s no bad thing in my opinion. Who wants ordinary?)

This sort of copywriter is in possession of many minds

©2014-2016 sawarahh

©2014-2016 sawarahh

or is at least able to make one mind perform acrobatics, as we don’t necessarily want to enter into the realm of insanity…

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So, here are the acrobatics my mind was performing last week, or those acrobatics relating to my job as a copywriter. (Let’s draw a veil over the Creative and Critical Writing Masters).

  • Researching highly technical data about WiFi solutions, cloud systems, BDR and the like – see, I know that BDR means backup disaster recovery now – and turning it into language that, well, people like me can understand. From nerd to, errm, tech dummy?
  • Revising a website for which the intended audience was high-society, aristocracy, royalty. From Joe Public to Upper-Upper Class
  • Creating a poster for a supermarket on the lower end of the retail spectrum for which the guidelines were, frankly, on the high end of the patronising spectrum. While not actually saying ‘use no long words’ they might as well have… From Joe Public to…some marketing department’s perception of a certain shopping demographic. Duh!

Oscar Wilde made me feel less slimy on the last point.

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And so did this…

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THAT’S what good copywriters do. Make things easy to understand, entertaining to read, compelling – using the vocabulary, tone and layout which will most appeal to whoever it is they’ve been asked to address.

I find it FUN copywriting though sometimes challenging. I love my job. All those acrobatics keep me mind agile.

Next week?

Keyboard skills for guinea pigs.

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NOOOOO problem for a polymath copywriter…

 

Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.

I beg your pardon? Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet?

Somebody said that. Nobody wanted to own up, though. And I would disagree – not that I’m not distracted by the internet, (excuse the double negative) by the way. Oh, hang on a sec…

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I AM sometimes distracted by the internet when I’m working but, here and now, I’m going to justify my position in a way that only an aficionado can. An aficionado who is also very skilled at finding euphemisms for uncomfortable words like addict and fanatic.

First – distracted or not, I don’t miss deadlines. EVER.

Second – writing is a solitary pursuit (I work on my own at home) and it takes up much less (work) time to have a quick interaction with someone on Facebook/by email/FaceTime/WhatsApp/SMS, or whatever your weapon of choice, than it does to meet up face-to-face.  Virtual chats are sometimes necessary when I’m up to my eyes in copywriting, just to remind me that there are people out there in the Big Bad World beyond the four walls of my study.

Third – when I’ve been writing for a long stretch on some mind-bogglingly dull or complex subject (yes, those do exist) I feel as though my head might explode. Very often, I’ll go out into the garden for a breath of fresh air, or make myself a cup of tea, or do some housework – all to give my brain a break. But SOMETIMES, it’s just as relaxing to surf the net for a while, watching silly YouTube videos about kittens startled by cucumbers. We all need a break occasionally, purrrrlease.

Fourth – I USE the internet quite extensively in my work – for research purposes. (My husband laughs hollowly when I tell him this – but I DO).

SO, the internet may have its pitfalls…

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BUT, it also has its uses for me, a writer.

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I’m now trying to assess whether writing this blog = being distracted by the internet. Don’t think so.

However, maybe you reading it is…

 

Writers fish for the right words

“…like fishermen fish for, um, whatever those aquatic creatures with fins and gills are called.”

Those words are from my favourite Jarod Kintz. (Well, he’s the only one I know…)

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Surely better to use familiar and simple words correctly rather than misuse other more complex words? (There’s an irony for you – misusing words when you’re anxious to appear to be clever. How to make yourself look like a numpty).

I love the way Howard Mittelmark offers a practical solution for us, in How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide.

“A Test: Do I Know This Word?

Ask yourself: ‘Do I know this word?’
If the answer is no, then you do not know it.”

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You could always be creative. Jarod Kintz again:

“Who needs a large vocabulary when you can just make up any word at any time? It makes life a whole lot more emeaglibop.”

I can honestly say that my life is particularly emeaglibop at the moment, in no small measure due to hearing some words on the radio, made up to fill gaps in the English dictionary – words created for occasions where no words exist.

For that moment when you’re waiting at the airport baggage reclaim and everybody’s suitcases have appeared except for yours:

BAGONIZING!

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To describe how you feel on those occasions when you’re with your friends and they’re constantly looking down at their mobiles:

PHONELY!

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And finally – you’re driving along the motorway and a huge truck pulls out in front of you and takes about half an hour to get past the truck in the next lane:

SLOVERTAKING

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As a copywriter, I find the right words for my clients’ websites and marketing material.

That’s all.

 

“When you undervalue what you do…”

“…the world will undervalue who you are,”says Oprah of the Winfrey.

Indeed, she is so very right, as always, I suspect. Sickening, really, people who are always right. It brings out the child in me.

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For my internal (now external) debate on whether or not I undervalue myself, blame Seth Godin, who kindly emails me every day with his thoughts, even when I don’t want to read them. This was from yesterday.

“Double and half (freelancer math)”      N.B. I think Seth means MATHS!

“Successful freelancers need to charge at least double the hourly rate that they’d be happy earning doing full time work. (In many fields, it’s more like 4 or 5x).

And they need to spend at least half their time getting better at their craft (and helping the market understand and appreciate what they do).

Your mileage may vary, but one sure route to becoming an unhappy freelancer is charging just enough and hoping that the low price will keep you busy all the time.”

See?

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I’m getting better at this but when I’m asked to quote for a job, everything inside screams, ‘Don’t charge too much! They’ll find someone cheaper. You won’t get the job.’ – so it’s a battle for me to come up with a realistic charge for my services and, yes, generally I DO undervalue myself and that means I don’t get paid as much as I might. Not that I’m an unhappy freelancer, you understand. My glass is always half full, or even overflowing, simply because I love my job.

But here are the recommended rates for freelance copywriters in the UK, as suggested by:

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Hourly: £30-£100 depending on experience.

Daily: £250-£800 depending on experience.

I AM very experienced. My clients come back to me again and again, because they know I produce top quality work on schedule or sooner and that I work weekends and through the night, if necessary, to get a job done on time.

I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.

There is this little niggling doubt in my head that I should rephrase that sentence starting,’My clients come back to me again and again, because…’ to incorporate the sentence, ‘I have never dared to charge more than £30 per hour.’

There I go. Undervaluing myself again.

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I’m not alone, which is something of a relief.

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I’m not sure about the second half of that statement.

I rest my case.

With writing – variety is life, uniformity is death.

This variety quote sounds so much better in French, (Doesn’t everything?), as said originally by that famous chappie, Benjamin Constant –  “La variété, c’est la vie, l’uniformité, c’est la mort.” Even if he wasn’t talking about writing.

(Benjamin Constant? Can’t resist finding out who he is  – a Swiss-French political activist and writer on politics and religion.  And how ironic that somebody espousing the value of variety has the name Constant…)

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Uniformity? Well, it looks pretty deathly to me.

This is why I consider myself to be so lucky. The luckiest writer in…my study, if not the universe.

There is variety in my writing life, in abundance.

In the past few weeks, I have been commissioned to write (or edit) pieces about:

  • Gluten-free pasta
  • A new apartment block in Watford
  • Advanced foam technology
  • Holidays in Zanzibar and Kenya
  • Residential building surveys
  • A local volunteer centre
  • Human rights in Pakistan
  • A health food shop for animals
  • Pre-paid cash cards for holiday travel
  • Direct mailing campaigns

I could go on…

Did I know anything about these subjects before I started?

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Nothing,  or not very much. Therein lies the joy for me. I love, simply LOVE, finding out about things. A whole variety of things. Things that seem pretty dull until I’ve started researching into them. Things that ARE inherently dull so it’s a challenge to make them seem interesting, or interesting enough to ensure that other people will be delighted to read about them.

“Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency pays the bills,” said Doug Cooper. Yes, THAT Doug Cooper. The one I haven’t heard of.

Doug Cooper is:

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Except that consistency DOES pay my bills, in the sense of producing consistently good, sparkly copy for my clients, no matter what the subject.

But without the variety…

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