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8 Best Practices for Writing for Translation
8 Best Practices for Writing for Translation

Tips to remember when for writing for translation and how to communicate with families clearly and effectively through TalkingPoints.

Kevin Chavez avatar
Written by Kevin Chavez
Updated over a week ago

When writing for a multilingual audience, certain expressions don't always translate the way we intend. The original text serves as a base for content in other languages. Therefore, it's extremely important that the message in the original language is written as clearly as possible because it will impact the other languages it is translated into. To avoid confusion, here are some tips to keep in mind when writing for translation.

1. Write Short, Simple Sentences

Writing long sentences in English will complicate the translation process and increase the chance of confusion (especially given the varying literacy levels of families). Keeping texts simple and concise fosters more effective communication. For these reasons, we have the readability flag feature, which notifies teachers when a sentence is likely too complex for non-English speakers.

2. Use Proper Grammar

Because mistakes can travel from the original language to target languages, ensure correct grammatical structure and proper punctuation. Errors can lead to incorrect translation and cause confusion:

  • Run-on Sentence: Johnny was late today, what time did he leave for school, did you know that he has been late three times this week already.

  • Correction: Johnny was late today. What time did he leave for school? He has been late three times this week.

  • Lack of capitalization: Hi all--please remember that we are joining st. paul middle for the excursion to the museum of Natural History tomorrow. We will meet in the downstairs lobby.

  • Correction: Hi all--please remember that we are joining St. Paul Middle School for the excursion to the Museum of Natural History tomorrow. We will meet in the downstairs lobby.

3. Avoid Specialized Language

  • Idioms- Idioms such as “beat around the bush” may have a clear meaning in English, but most likely will not in other languages.

  • Acronyms- these abbreviations will most likely have different letters for the words they represent in other languages. It is best to spell these words out for accurate translation.

  • Professional Jargon and Colloquial Terminology- Medical, legal, and other professional jargon, regional phrases, and figures of speech rarely translate with equivalency. It's best to use clear, simple language to avoid misunderstandings.

*Please note: Common educational terms can be used in curly brackets, as described in the examples below:

4. Decide What Will Stay in English

Some information needs to stay in English. Although we recommend keeping this to a minimum (no more than twice per message), utilizing curly braces will keep texts from being translated. Here are some examples below:

  • Place names: "During the field trip, we'll stop at {Boston Common} for a break, before continuing on to {Old North Church}."

  • Addresses: "If you'd prefer, you can mail the signed form to {1234 Summer Street, City State Zip}."

  • Homework assignments: "Tonight, students should complete the {Silly Synonyms Worksheet}."

  • People's names: If they represent common words, put them in brackets. "Hi, my name is {Joy Summer}, I will be your child's 4th-grade teacher this year."

*Good news! Many common educational terms are included in our TalkingPoints for Families Ed 101 feature. If the app recognizes that one of the terms has been sent from a teacher to a family, it will be highlighted. The family member can click on the highlighted term and it will reveal and simplified definition of the term. This is to increase the accessibility and understandability of the information being shared by teachers with families.

5. Use Specific Vocabulary

Words with multiple connotations can be confusing in other languages. It's best to avoid words with various meanings and use direct vocabulary to describe situations.

Vague Wording

  • Jenny was acting silly in class today and distracting the other students.

  • Jenny made a silly drawing in class today and everyone loved it!

The word "silly" has positive and negative connotations, such as being funny or rambunctious. It's better to use a word that specifically describes Jenny's actions.


  • Jenny was disruptive in class today and distracted the other students.

  • Jenny made a hilarious drawing in class today and everyone loved it!

6. Use Active Voice

Sentences in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. Using an active voice relates a transparent, assertive message.

  • Passive voice: The reason Brett arrived to school late today was because his stomach felt nauseous.

  • Active Voice: Brett arrived to school late because he was nauseous.

  • Passive voice: The squirrel was chased by the dog.

  • Active Voice: The dog chased the squirrel.

7. Utilize Visuals

Providing visuals of what is being translated can increase comprehension and understanding from the target audience. At times, a graphic can make a huge difference in clarifying what you're expressing.

8. Be Conscious of How International Dates are Formatted

In the U.S., dates are written as the month, day, and year.

  • Example: 09/07/2021.

In other countries, dates are written as the day, month, and year.

  • Example: 07/09/2021

The date and the month could be misinterpreted by families if they haven't yet adjusted to how dates in the U.S. are formatted. For accuracy, it's best to spell out the name of the month and then put the date. If space is tight, using an abbreviation for the month is fine too.

  • Example: September 7, 2021, or Sep. 7, 2021

Cross-cultural communication requires practice to master, but it begins with making sure the original text is easy to translate. Although spelling out words entirely or being more conscious of proper grammar usage initially takes a little more time, writing translation-ready material will actually save you time in the end, as well as increase quality and readability for non-English speaking readers. Overall, the more families understand what's going on, the better they can support student success.

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