Translating for museums and galleries

Written on 4 November, 2022

Here at Surrey Translation Bureau (STB) we provide translations across a broad range of subjects, ably assisted by our extensive pool of experienced native linguists/translators. While most of our tasks fall into one of the common categories of translation – such as marketing, business, administrative, or legal – we are often asked to work on more niche projects, one such area being translating for museums.

We are always searching for new opportunities to hone our skills in different areas of translation via regular in-house and external training. In this spirit, our Senior Translator, Nick Ives, recently attended a training session focusing on translation for museums. As well as reaffirming some of the processes and techniques already employed at STB, it also offered some insights into this area which will help to make us even more efficient at translating for galleries and museums.

Translating for museums

What kind of museums can we cater for?

Museums and galleries come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from prestigious institutions in big cities to smaller museums detailing local history, or even open-air working museums which aim to bring the past to life. Museums generally have one of the following purposes: conservation, research, exhibition, or education.

Why do museums need translation?

  • • To attract international visitors: One thing that most museums have in common is that they are often a draw for tourists and international visitors, and therefore need to convey their information in multiple languages in order to fulfil their function.
  • • To promote diversity and inclusion: Providing guides and catalogues in multiple languages is one effective way of welcoming a more diverse audience.
  • • To provide a more engaging experience for visitors: Depending on the strategy employed by the museum, this could simply be in the form of maps or signposting within the institution, right through to the audio-visual material and exhibit labels.

What kind of material can be translated?

  • • Labels: Most museums use labels to provide information on the various exhibits, from room labels and section labels, through to case labels and caption labels for the individual exhibits themselves.
  • • Guides: Many museums and galleries also offer multi-language maps and narrated audio guides to provide additional information to their visitors.
  • • Interactive media displays: Interactive displays, which may also be offered in multiple languages, are another increasingly common feature in more modern museums. In addition to this, many institutions have started to offer online or virtual content, either exclusively or to complement current exhibitions, as well as visitor apps.
  • • Printed materials: Exhibition catalogues are often provided to accompany exhibitions and promotional materials – such as leaflets and posters, for example – are another common requirement.
  • • Websites and apps: With websites being a one-stop shop for all information related to specific exhibitions or the whole museum at large, many organisations get most of their web and app-based content translated to reach their target audience.

What do language agencies need from clients when translating for museums?

Clear communication is essential to ensure that the text is translated consistently, not only within itself but with the required tone and in a way that suits your purpose.

We strongly recommend that museum clients provide translation companies with reference materials, such as:

  • • reference images
  • • any existing translations and similar texts from other exhibitions
  • • information on the target audience
  • • style guides
  • • preferred terminology/glossaries.

Clients should also advise if they have any specific requirements in terms of the types of labels to be used, any applicable word limits to adhere to, and whether information in other languages will be included on labels and displays, or on a separate sheet.

 Why choose STB for museum translation?

Surrey Translation Bureau is an award-winning, ISO-certified translation agency with over 35 years’ experience. We have a wide network of skilled translators covering a huge range of subject areas and most world languages. We also have an experienced in-house team and assign a dedicated project manager to act as a single point of contact and oversee your project from start to finish.

We use computer-assisted translation tools and terminology management systems to ensure you maintain a consistent tone of voice and terminology across all of your materials.

Get in touch to find out how our translation services can help you attract more international visitors for your museum or gallery. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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Written by Nick Ives