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How to Write for a Multilingual Marketplace (Part 1)

by Suzan St Maur  |  
October 19, 2004

Everyone thought I was nuts to take on the scriptwriting job doing sales-training videos for the European division of a major US car manufacturer.

"You write it in English so ze boys in Detroit can understand und approve it," said the German producer on the phone to me. "Zen I shoot the video and do one edit. Zat's all zey vant to spend."

"Fine," I ventured. "So what's the catch?"

"Zat one edit gets voiceovers in 11 different languages," he continued, sniggering a little. "Ze translations are all different lengths. So your original has to work in chunks mit long gaps in English, so it can flow at 90 miles an hour in Greek.

"It's a bloody nightmare," he said finally. "Still vant to do it?"

I let out a long sigh, stared at my sparse-looking bank statement and said yes.

Here, then, is some advice based on my painful experience.

Allow for different language lengths

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Suzan St Maur ( writes extensively on marketing and business communications and is the author of the widely acclaimed Powerwriting.

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