Rethinking translation: can we design content bilingually?

This summer, the Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS) launched the Trio writing handbook. Nia writes about the challenges of being a solo Welsh speaker on a team, and why it’s important that CDPS is changing attitudes and approaches to Welsh translation.

In Wales, the Welsh language is protected. In the 2011 census, 562,000 people said they spoke Welsh. The Welsh government has ambitious plans for the number of Welsh speakers to reach 1 million by 2050.

All public sector organisations must provide their products and services in both Welsh and English by law. Welsh should be treated no less favourably than English. 

Yet when it comes to content, translation usually happens at the end of the process, once the important work has been done in English. 

Designing in English and simply translating into Welsh at the end means that the needs of Welsh speaking audiences are not considered. It takes context, consistency, and care to create authentic experiences in Welsh that truly meet people’s needs.

Welsh is often treated as an afterthought. 

So much so that research from CDPS showed that Welsh speakers often have no choice but to use services in English.

The CDPS team has set out to change this. 

Launched at Europe’s largest cultural festival, the National Eisteddfod, the Trio writing handbook is full of essays and guides on why and how we can give both languages equal consideration.

Rethinking the traditional translation process

While the translation landscape is mature in Wales, the CDPS team felt that there were opportunities to improve ways of working. 

Having previously worked at a Welsh local authority, the team’s content designer, Adrián Ortega understood that the traditional translation process was unsustainable.

“Because all public-facing communication must be bilingual, every team must factor translation time into its plans”, Adrián explained

“But this depends on the capacity and workload of the translation team at the time of the request, making it almost impossible for the teams to plan ahead. Scale that up to an entire organisation that constantly produces all types of content, and it means reprioritisation, sudden urgent deadlines, and unexpected delays.”

Involving the right people, at the right time

Adrián and the team wanted to find out how they could work with local authorities and Welsh Government during content production to improve public service delivery, bilingually. This would mean working in Welsh and English side by side throughout the process, instead of translating into Welsh at the end.

The team used a trio writing technique that had been piloted by a team at Natural Resources Wales. They brought together a subject expert from Welsh government, and their own content designer and translator to draft content in both languages at the same time. They then ran a content crit to gather feedback from people who worked at local authorities in Wales. 

Their content testing speaks for itself: by designing bilingually, involving the right skills and expertise at the right time, they succeeded in making content that’s simple, clear and meets audiences’ needs in both languages. 

Watch the CDPS show and tell about the project.

The trio writing handbook

The idea to develop a handbook came about at this year’s GovCamp Cymru; a day that celebrates the hard work that goes into maintaining and improving public services in Wales.

Meeting the CDPS team there, I was fortunate to be involved in conversations about translation and invited to write a chapter for the handbook.

In the chapter, I reflect on how being the only Welsh speaker among peers and colleagues has come with some challenges over the years, working in both the public and private sectors.

Being a Welsh-speaking content designer can mean playing multiple roles: the translator, the plain language consultant, the advocate for Welsh-speaking audiences, the editor, the reviewer. Your expertise and judgement are relied upon to guarantee the accuracy, cultural sensitivity, and linguistic integrity of the Welsh content.

But, as the handbook highlights, content design is a team sport. When we shift our mindset and put our audiences and their needs at the centre of our work, we realise that there is only so much we can do alone. 

Trio writing is the perfect example of this, where a team has come together to find different and better ways of thinking and doing.

As I say in the handbook: this is how you treat both languages equally. This is how change happens. 

Buy or download the Trio writing handbook.

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