Recently we’ve been involved with two large translation projects where the client requested “international” French translations for France and Canada, and Spanish translations for Spain and South/Latin America. Is this a good idea? What are the benefits, and what are the risks of trying to create a single translation for cross-oceanic audiences?
As is usually the case with translation, content is king. If your content is very basic, and does not contain a lot of technical terms, i.e. a press release, then an international version may communicate your message effectively. However, legal, medical, engineering, or other technical content is likely to contain enough differences to make creating a local version advisable. Keep in mind that even with very basic content, different words can be used for very common things, such as the word for “computer”: computadora in Latin America, and ordenador in Spain. The same applies to French: “drink”, France: boisson. Québec: breuvage.
Both audiences might be able to understand the different word choices, but then again, they might not. Ask yourself if you know what a “lorry” is (UK English for “truck”), then, if you do, ask your co-workers if they know. It’s likely at least some of your co-workers will not be familiar with the term. They may be able to understand it in a text by using context clues, but keep in mind that this is the same thought process that the readers of your international translation may have to go through.