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Translation for museums: this is why you need a strategy!

Translation for museums can be a daunting task, especially if like many American museums, you’re “going bilingual”! Translation is often considered part of a museum’s efforts to reach a wider audience. But it is not always approached methodically, with a strategic mindset. Instead, it is usually perceived as an added bonus, or an extra task that gets in the way of your finishing that project. Let me explain why this is a problem and what the consequences might be!

Museum gallery
Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash


You need to have an overall translation strategy

And by this, I mean a strategic approach to translation, i.e. A PLAN! Why? Because what you see is that museums often don’t have a plan when embracing translation. And the consequence is that their texts do not work to their advantage as much as they could.

And even if there is a plan on paper, it is very common to see that, in practice, the plan is not followed or applied properly. What is the problem with not having a strategy? I’ll give you a couple of examples…

Example 1: There are inconsistencies in your translated materials

I remember last year, when we could still travel safely. (Ah… remember?). I was in Italy, and I went to a museum. As any good museum nerd, I rented the audio guide to take full advantage of my experience. (Of course!)

The museum was practically empty on a weekday, so it was the perfect scenario where you get to walk around, sit down and listen. However, I wasn’t impressed… What happened?

The titles of the artworks in the audio guide did not match those printed on the labels. So, locating the work they were talking about became really confusing. Of course there was a number. But when the voice actor says a different title, you start to wonder if you got it right, or if you are in the wrong gallery altogether.

I remember having to go back and listen again after spending a few minutes making sure I was looking at the right painting… Less than ideal!

Translation for museums

One of the labels in question, where the audio guide used another name instead of “Madonna in adoration of the Child with angel.”

So, why do I think this fact points to a lack of strategy?

Because these two different texts (labels and audio guide script) were clearly translated separately, at different times, or worse, by different people.

Example 2: Your voice isn’t clearly defined

Do you curate the voice you use to communicate with your audience? I’m dead sure you do. Somehow, I’m sure the museum’s team has come together and agreed “this is what we want to sound like.”

Have you done the same for your translated materials?… I’m thinking probably not, right?

It is definitely easier, and much quicker, to pop an email to your translation provider with an attachment and a message along the lines of “how long does it take you and how much does it cost?”

The problem with this is that you leave it to whoever handles the translation to decide your voice for you. Basically, you leave it to someone else to decide the type of relationship your museum will establish with your visitors!

Sure, you might get lucky, and be working with someone who’s really done their homework. However, more often than not, you’ll end up with a translation that doesn’t reflect the voice you’ve so carefully curated for your museum in English.

Truth is, even if it takes more time, you need to sit down and have a chat with your translator. Talk to them, explain what the situation is, tell them explicitly what you want, and decide together how to achieve it.

If you’re serious about translation in your museum, make sure you devote that little bit of time to get to know the people you’ll be working with. Get to know what they think and what they stand for. This way you’ll be sure your translated texts reflect your institutional values.

This is where translation for museums usually goes wrong – lack of communication!


So, you have a problem… What can you do about it?

If you’re working with a big agency, you should know they’ll entrust the translation to an external provider. As you don’t know who these providers are, or what they really know, I strongly recommend you put everything in writing. This is the only way you can make sure the person who’ll actually be typing your translations knows what you want.

Translation for museums can be tricky. Creating a style guide is your best bet to stay on top of it!

I also suggest requesting that the agency uses the same translator every time they work for you. However, if that isn’t possible, a written style guide will at least provide a basic level of consistency across your texts.

If you’re working with a small translation studio like #ucreatewetranslate, then no need to worry. You’ll be speaking directly with the person crafting your Spanish voice, i.e. me!

And even if your project is multilingual and involves several translators, I will make sure there is a strategy, and a defined tone of voice that helps your museum properly engage its audience in exactly the way you want it to.

Leo Dicaprio cheers

Still confused? No idea where to start?

That’s OK. Translation for museums is not precisely something new, but I think we’re just starting to take it seriously. There isn’t much information out there, and it is pretty common to not know where to start. But worry not!

All you need to do is book a call with me – we’ll hop onto Skype or Zoom for an hour or so and chat away to clear up your mind. Free of charge, and no strings attached!

I will try to help you decide whether you need to translate just a few things. Or whether it’s feasible to go fully bilingual. We can also discuss a strategy to tackle the project as a whole, and I can even help you come up with a schedule to slowly, but surely, make progress with your translation efforts.

If you want your voice to be analysed, and you want your ‘translated voice’ to be defined professionally, shoot me a line and we’ll work through it! You can always reach me at

I understand translation as a partnership, a collaborative effort where we share one same objective – to fully engage your local Spanish-speaking and Latinx community through beautifully translated texts!

You know, just a fellow Latina here trying to make a change 😉


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If you want to book a free call to discuss your needs, you can do so by clicking on this link.


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