stacks of coins
By: Patrick On: September 02, 2016 In: Translation Comments: 0

Currency translation is an oft-overlooked aspect of document translation. When you focus on translating only the text, you might forget that currency figures can have a significant effect on the document’s impact.

For example, an American audience reading about a new type of Japanese car might find a two million yen price tag intimidating, even though the actual converted dollar amount is only around $20,000.

What’s more, translated financial documents that forgo currency conversion could prove confusing for readers who are expecting to see figures in a different currency.

It is a good idea to account for currency translation so that you can avoid these kinds of situations. This is a fairly simple step, and most translation companies will be able to perform this in addition to the regular translation without too much trouble. Before you proceed, however, there are some important considerations to be made.

Is It Necessary to Translate Currency?

Currency translation is certainly important for financial reports or certain legal documents. Here, the monetary figures are the document’s key points. Understanding the amounts involved is critical to the success of the document, so in these cases, dollars (or rubles, or pesos) should definitely be translated into the appropriate currency.

Documents like marketing materials and press releases, on the other hand, are very subjective regarding currency concerns. Translating marketing copy is very important, no question about it. But when it comes to monetary amounts, it really depends on the context. Is the monetary amount the central topic? Or is it supporting information that complements the piece?

Depending on the document’s purpose, currency may or may not need to be converted. Brochures and vouchers will likely benefit from conversion, so that the target audience can compare costs accurately. In contrast, press releases and announcements might not need currency amounts to be translated, since the primary focus is on the content of the text, not the numbers.

If you’re unsure whether or not your project should convert currency amounts, you can always ask your language service provider for guidance.

Which Currency Should You Use?

The answer to this question isn’t as simple as “the currency of the language you’re using.” If a translator is told to convert currency figures, but not the currency to use, he or she can’t always be expected to guess from the context of the project.

A financial document could be translated into Spanish, for example, but if it refers to domestic sales, should the numbers be expressed in euro or pesos — be they Mexican or Argentine — or even US dollars?

In situations like these, language service providers can work with you to offer advice. Depending on the intended audience(s) for a given document, you and your language service agency can determine the appropriate currency to translate into (if any), and inform the translator accordingly. This takes any guess-work out of the equation, so that you don’t end up with a Peruvian bank statement full of Chilean pesos.

In some cases, a document is best presented with two currencies listed side by side, often with one in parentheses. Doing so allows readers to better compare figures between countries. At other times, only one currency is relevant. As with many aspects of currency translation, the best solution varies from project to project.

Should It Be Dated?

Financial statements and legal documents may need to list the date of conversion. This is usually to ensure accurate record keeping for reference later on. After all, exchange rates fluctuate, so it’s sometimes critically important to establish when the currency was converted — especially in the course of litigation, which can take years to resolve.

The flip side of this is when you’re converting a figure taken from a certain time period. Perhaps you are comparing costs in 1988 to costs in 2012. Would you use the exchange rate from 1988? Or would you use 2012 exchange rates? Do you need to account for inflation?

It All Adds Up

Converting monetary amounts can seem like such a tiny detail compared to the mountains of text that translators often see. But keep in mind that a good translation service will be able to help you determine if currency translation is an appropriate step to take as part of your project.

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