Harry Potter and the translator’s nightmare

Many years ago I wrote a help guide for a development company. They’d written an online game for a globally recognized company as part of a promotion. The game went online for about a month. Anyone who played the game could earn points and use them to purchase items from the company. The secondary objective of the guide was to help the players understand the dynamics of the game, and how to cash in their points. The actual objective was to reduce the number of calls to the support desk. Support call costs are higher than most companies would like. If you factor in the cost of the person answering the call, the charge by the telco, the length of time to answer a call, and the software licenses, companies are spending anywhere from $3 to $7 a call. (On average.)

Once I’d completed the English version, the guide would be translated into French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

I knew the translator’s job could be tough so I kept my sentences short (fifteen words or less), and to the point.  Two weeks later I was relieved when the translators let me know they’d been able to translate the copy without any stress. Even better, the total number of support calls were 310 out of an audience of 30,000. So around 1%.

Which leads me to this interesting video about translating the Harry Potter series and how the translators had to apply some magic of their own.

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