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Translating business cards – time and money saving tips

If it is your first time dealing with typesetting foreign language business cards, you may start out thinking it is a simple task. So did we. Later we learned that without proper preparation and accessible information, it can turn out to be a very time consuming job with changes and changes following initial layout and translation. After many trials and errors, we have summarized the lessons we learned here for you.

  • Establish a “Do not translate list.” Generally speaking, clients have their own preferences as to what information should remain in English. We find that many Japanese clients prefer leaving “phone number” and “fax number” in English. The reason behind it is that those phrases are so often used in business correspondence that they are widely understood and don’t require translation. Another situation where a “Do not translate list” would help is name translation. For some English speaking clients, they want their name translated. If it is from a Roman based language into a non-Roman language such as Japanese or Chinese, usually “transliteration” is used where the name is translated into characters based on the pronunciation of the name. For example, President George Bush’s name is translated into Chinese as 乔治·布什, which is based on its pronunciation. Depending on the client, some are comfortable with this approach, some are not. Finding out before sending this card for translation will save a lot of revision down the road.
  • Specify native name spelling. Many expatriates who need business cards translated already have their name in the target language. For example, the Chinese name of Connie Chung is 宗毓华 (pronounced as Zong, Lihua in Mandarin), which is not a translation of Connie at all. In a situation where Connie wants her Chinese card done, she would like to see 宗毓华 on the card, not just a transliteration of Connie Chung. The point we are making here is that it is imperative to find out the native name spelling of the card client whenever applicable and possible.
  • Number formats: for example, in most languages, both Arabic numbers (0, 1, 2, …) as well as their native numbering formats are acceptable. For example, in China, the phone number 519 256 3399 can be written both like that or in Chinese 五一九 二五六 三三九九. We find that if we knew client’s choice before starting to typeset, usually the turnaround time for the final card is a lot faster.
  • Company name translation: many companies already have previously established names for their foreign subsidiaries. For example, Goldman Sachs’ subsidiary in China is called 高盛公司 (pronounced as Gao Sheng). The decision for which characters to use to stand for the company is usually made from a marketing perspective and based on a lot of research. The same applies to tag lines. It doesn’t make sense for a translation company to re-invent a name or tagline when they already exist. It is important to find out that information and communicate it to the translation vendor before everything starts.
  • Be aware of final delivery formats. For cards in non-Roman based languages, if you use an English operating system, you will need to receive the final translated business card as outlines so that you can view it (after being converted to outlines, text becomes an image). You can still manipulate the outline but you can not change the content of the text. So if you want to have the flexibility of being able to make changes (sometimes it maybe just to change a phone number), you need to ask for the text version of the file.
  • Finally, the typesetter needs to know what kind of software and which version the printer is using. For example, if the typesetter is using a version 10 software but the printer is using version 9. Unless the typestter knows it before hand and downsave it to a lower version, the printer might not be able to use the file.

We learned the above from translating and typesetting hundreds of business cards. We hope the information can be of use to you, helping you save time and money. If you are looking for Chinese translation or Chinese typesetting services, contact wintranslation.