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Planning for translations

Planning is integral to organising translations. Taking time to plan before undertaking a translation project can ensure that the process runs smoothly, meets timelines, targets the most appropriate audience effectively and remains within budget.

Is translation required?

When determining the value of translated material the following questions should be considered:

  • What is the message?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What is the best way of communicating with the target audience?

What is the best way to deliver translated material?

Written translations may not always be the most effective way to convey information. For example, instructions may be better provided through images, diagrams or storyboards. Other information may be better delivered in audio format through an interpreter.

Sometimes a combination of communication modes may be appropriate. For example, translated material can be used to supplement interpreting services and provides information that the client can refer to later.

Some migrants may not be literate in their native language as a result of limited or disrupted education. Also, different communities may have particular preferences for receiving information. For example, communities with a strong oral tradition may not be used to written communication and some older people may prefer audio visual material.

Alternative ways of providing multilingual information include:

  • information sessions, seminars or presentations
  • audio visually through podcasts, CDs or DVDs
  • recorded multilingual telephone messages, or telephone interpreters
  • storyboards including images, photos, diagrams or charts
  • pictures, drawing and object symbols
  • radio
  • television
  • using Deaf interpreters, who relay information from an Auslan interpreter
  • Easy English

Many of the above mediums will require translation - for example, translating English language script for audio information or recorded multilingual telephone messages.

Not everyone will have access to these mediums, so consult relevant community organisations for advice on the best way to deliver the information.

Complex information, for example, legal or medical advice, should always be delivered in person through a professional interpreter.

Easy English

Easy English involves taking complex language and making it as simple as possible without changing the meaning. It makes information accessible to people who have difficulty reading and understanding written text, by using clear, simple language and diagrams.

Producing an Easy English version of the source information may be useful in some situations where a basic level of English proficiency has been acquired by a community. Advice should be sought from the relevant community organisations to determine whether this option is appropriate.

For more information on Easy English visit: www.scopevic.org.au/index.php/cms/frontend/resource/id/193

Locate data sources

Understanding the pattern of need for language services is a core responsibility for all departments and funded agencies who deliver services to the community. This should occur as an integral part of operational service planning and monitoring, as well as part of broader strategic planning.

Research and consultation is required to identify the target audience and to select the appropriate languages for translation. It may be necessary to use multiple data sources, such as Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data, the most recent settlement data, and service usage data to gain an accurate picture of the diversity in the target community. Where relevant, data could also be requested from service delivery and community organisations.

Consultation with community organisations who work with the target groups can also be helpful to determine the communication preferences of the target audience, the languages to be translated and other culturally specific information to ensure the translation is effective.

Client and service usage data

Departments must collect, analyse and report on language services data. Regular collection of data on clients and their service usage enables:

  • better understanding of the language needs of clients;
  • monitoring of service accessibility for people who speak or sign other languages; and
  • identification of potential language service gaps.

Client information on age, language spoken at home, preferred language and English proficiency is important to plan translations.

The identification of clients who require language services should be included in referral information and be part of standard initial contact with clients. Where specific language services are required by a client, such as an interpreter, this information should be recorded in the client's record so that others are alerted.

A system to routinely collect this data is required especially if a significant proportion of clients have limited English language proficiency.

The Victorian Government Standards for Data Collection on Interpreting and Translating Service ( www.multiculturalcommission.vic.gov.au) provides guidance on collecting data on language service needs, including client demographics, expenditure and complaints.

Demographic data

Language spoken at home and the level of English proficiency are the most important factors to consider when planning for language services. Country of birth, while relevant, is an insufficient indicator of preferred language (see below).

Demographic data can be accessed from various sources to help identify which language groups may require translations. The following sources are useful:

  • census data on cultural and linguistic diversity for Victoria is available by local government area including key indicators such as country of birth, language spoken at home, English proficiency and religion.
  • the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website ( www.abs.gov.au) provides data which can be used for specific demographic analysis. Available data includes age, gender, place of residence, citizenship status, country of origin, ancestry, religion, language spoken at home, level of English proficiency (note this is self-assessed), level of education, level of income and access to the internet.
  • for the most recent data on newly arrived migrants, see the Settlement Reporting Facility at  immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/settling-in-australia/settlement-reports, which includes the number of migrants settling in Victoria, their country of birth, languages spoken, English proficiency, religion and year of arrival.

By combining different data sources, a more accurate demographic picture can be obtained that reflects changes between Census periods.

Identify the target audience

When deciding the languages to be translated consider the target audience rather than just using the top languages spoken in Victoria. Understanding the target audience is important to determine the appropriate style for the translated material. Some factors to consider include:

Age

Consider the age of the target audience where relevant. For example, information on Alzheimer's disease, which generally affects older people, should be translated for communities with an older age profile. Whereas information on early childhood services would target migrant groups with a younger age profile.

Gender

Consider the gender of the target audience where relevant. For example, translated information on breastfeeding would be most relevant to communities with a higher proportion of women of child-bearing age.

Other factors

Consider whether the information to be translated has special relevance to migrants from particular countries, ethnic or religious backgrounds. For example, residents born in countries where voting is not compulsory, or where the electoral system is different, may have the highest need for translated information on voting requirements.

Select the languages

Once the basic demographics and other characteristics of the target audience have been identified, a number of additional factors will need to be considered to determine the most appropriate languages for translation. The following are important to consider:

Preferred language

While country of birth is a useful starting point, this does not necessarily indicate the preferred language of the target audience. In some countries, several languages may be spoken. Also, some people may have spent considerable time in a country other than the one they were born in, and may speak the language of that country. It is advisable to check with the language service provider, or relevant community organisations, to determine the preferred language.

Dialects

Dialect and regional variations should also be considered when selecting languages for translation as the target audience may have a preferred dialect. Language service providers and community organisations can be a good source of advice in this regard.

Writing systems

Different writing systems may be used within particular languages. For example, some Chinese languages use simplified character sets while others use traditional characters. Consult a language service provider about the appropriate writing system for the target languages.

Clarifying the preferred writing system is especially important when providing translated information online, because this may require technical changes to ensure the script displays correctly on the website. 

Reviewed 09 October 2019

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