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MONSTERS FROM RUSSIA

(some recommendations to foreign customers)

by Alexander Bessonov

If a foreign company intends to start sales in Russia it is essential to have irreproachable documentation in Russian. It may sound weird, but many products are not successful on the Russian market only due to poor translation.

Unlike English and some other European languages, Russian is considered to be very difficult for foreigners. The main explanation for this is the fact that any part of a word in Russian is changeable and numerous possible (and not possible) combinations are very confusing. It stays the same for sentences: at first it seems that word order can be almost arbitrary, but in fact it is not so. Just look at the following example. All the sentences below are translated into English as “I went to the shop”. But…

Я пошел в магазин            (neutral, may sound awkward depending on the text around)              

Пошел я в магазин            (implies that something happened on my way to the shop)    

В магазин я пошел            (implies that I should not have gone there, it was stupid of me to go there)

В магазин пошел я            (stresses that it was me who went to the shop)

Now look at word-formation in Russian:

букет                                a bouquet

букетище                          a very big bouquet

but

чудо                                   a miracle

чудовище                           a monster (not “very big miracle”)

Misunderstanding of such subtle nuances usually is the main reason why translations done by foreigners just sound funny to native speakers of Russian. Even people who lived or studied in Russia for several years are usually still unable to write grammatically correct, not to mention observing style or showing eloquence. Of course these people will be understood by Russians since one often can guess what is meant. But if you are responsible for sales in a company, how do you like your advertisements being written in such a language?

At the first glance it seems to be exaggerated. But look at this article about prestigious “Interauto-2007” exhibition in Moscow:

"Now let us put up an ethical question – the disrespect shown by the Chinese representatives towards their potential customers whose majority is still in Russia. And this concerns even such a minor detail as presentation materials.

During the recent exhibition “Interauto-2007” car manufacturers from China occupied the lion’s share of the stands having presented more than 15 companies. Everything looked great: pretty girls, bright lights, ribbons, officials in strict suits…and glossy advertisements printed with state-of-the-art technologies. But the text inside… Text causing you to fall about laughing, raising your spirits but at the same time filling you with complete distrust to the products. The Chinese created unique adverse publicity with theirs own hands. Why didn’t they hire a professional technical translator or just a native Russian proofreader?!" 

This example is not unique. We have seen a MV frequency converter manual from China recently. One can barely guess what was in the original text. Some sentences were also funny but not for the personnel who were supposed to operate the installation – 6 kV power network is a dangerous toy to play with.

Actually this situation seems to be typical of China. Teaching Chinese students at Moscow universities as well as teaching Russian at some schools resulted in many people believing that they speak Russian while it is more than far from that. I have just visited exhibition “Expoelektronika-2008” in Moscow dedicated to electronic components and equipment. Communication with Chinese representatives was really confusing: “Russian-speaking” girls in almost every box in more than twenty were not understood by Russians, besides it came out they did not speak English either. The most successful exhibitor … had an English-speaking representative that did not know a word in Russian. But most of his Russian visitors spoke English!

The situation with European companies is generally better. It is mainly explained by the fact that European translation agencies just use their counterparts in Russia as subcontractors. We strongly recommend to foreign manufacturers to order translations into Russian to Russian translation agencies. Not only does it provide better quality of the text translated but also is cheaper than ordering the job to a similar agency in your country. In the last case you just pay to an intermediary. Even if your language is “exotic” for Russia (Japanese, Chinese, Arabic etc.) it is reasonable to translate the text into English in your country first (it is usually not very expensive because it is widespread) and then give it to a translation agency in Russia. It will be at least two times cheaper than translating the text directly, e.g. from Japanese into Russian.

 

We do not translate 1000 pages a week. We do not take up ALL kinds of translations, from petrochemistry to astronomy. We do not translate into Swahili. But WE ARE EXPERTS in what we offer to our Customers.

 

 
 

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