The importance of inclusive language and translation

What is inclusive language?


Inclusive language means using words carefully to acknowledge diversity and ensure that no one is alienated from your communications. It’s a respectful way of engaging with every member of your audience, particularly marginalised individuals and groups. It means avoiding bias and not making assumptions about gender, race, ethnicity, ability or sexuality.


Inclusive language isn’t just a “nice to have”; it’s critical to connecting with your target market. Failing to be inclusive with your communications means that you are likely to lose many potential customers from the get-go – not only under-recognised* groups, but also younger people and anyone else attuned to issues of equality and inclusion.


More broadly, inclusive language is a way to effect real change in the world. Language is power, and it shapes our cognition. The more we hear stereotypes reinforced through language, the more we’re likely to believe them. Conversely, inclusive language chips away at implicit bias and contributes to making our world more accepting, equitable and tolerant. If that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, read on!


Inclusive language, translation and added value


Attitudes and approaches to issues of inclusion vary between cultures and languages. What’s acceptable in one country might come across as outdated, insensitive or downright offensive in another, so it’s crucial to get it right when you’re targeting an international audience.


At ecls translations, we don’t just convert words from one language to another. Instead, we spend time carefully analysing the source text and crafting a message in the target language that will truly resonate with the intended audience. This means that if we come across something in a source text that won’t sit well with a target market in terms of its inclusivity, we’ll flag this up to you and suggest some possible adaptations rather than simply translating word for word.


It’s important to remember that language is constantly evolving, and what might be the inclusive term today could cause offence in the future. That’s why we ensure that we are always up to date with cultural and linguistic changes to remain as inclusive as possible.


Inclusive language around the world


Just as attitudes to inclusivity vary around the world, so do linguistic strategies of inclusion. This is a vast and complex area, but let’s take a brief look at some of the hot topics in the three main languages in which ecls translations specialises: English, French and German.


In the UK, identity politics is currently a hotly debated issue. Regardless, gender inclusivity is becoming more and more important, with many individuals and institutions recognising that gender is not binary, for example by implementing a policy of stating preferred personal pronouns (such as she/her, he/him, they/them, ze, sie and xim). The UK’s National Health Service has also begun to adopt gender-neutral language, so that, for example, you might see information for an expectant parent referring to “birthing person” instead of “mother” and “chestfeeding” instead of “breastfeeding”.


In terms of race and ethnicity, there’s a movement towards using the term “global majority” rather than “ethnic minority” to describe people who are Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, in recognition of the fact that these groups represent some 80% of the world's population. If you’d like to explore these issues in greater depth, inclusive language guides are a great starting point – for example, a guide to writing about ethnicity published by the UK Government can be found here, while a guide to writing about disability is available here.


In France, language is a famously political issue. The Académie Française was established in 1634 to protect the “purity” of the French language, and even today it plays an important role in deciding what’s “correct” in terms of grammar, spelling and vocabulary. However, it’s often seen as old-fashioned and out of step with the times: recently, it has criticised the use of trendy anglicisms such as “big data” and “drive-through” in public life. More controversially, the Académie has also opposed attempts to make French more gender-neutral. One topic to come under fire is the inclusive neologism “iel”– a gender-neutral pronoun that combines the masculine “il” and the feminine “elle”. However, the debate also extends to the structure of the language itself. As French is a grammatically gendered language, speakers generally need to specify either the masculine or feminine version of occupations and pronouns – for example, “le traducteur”/”la traductrice”. Many people see this as problematic because when gender is unknown or unclear, or when a group of people are referred to, the default is the masculine, which arguably reinforces patriarchal ideology and erases women and people of other genders.


Various strategies have been developed to get round this and make the language more gender-neutral and inclusive. One of these is the use of an interpoint (∙) or other symbol to combine the masculine form of a noun phrase with feminine suffixes, known as a truncated doublet – for example, “Les traducteur∙rices sont actif∙ves”. The Académie Française has decried such constructions as a sign that French is in mortal danger, while the French Sénat has voted for an extensive ban on gender-inclusive writing. Admittedly, such constructions are perhaps a little difficult to read, and don’t work well when spoken out loud, but there are also alternative solutions such as full doublets (“les traducteurs et les traductrices”) and the use of epicene terms, which are gender-neutral – for example, “la direction” rather than “le directeur/la directrice”.


The picture with the German language is similar – as another grammatically gendered language, German also has the same challenge that gender usually has to be specified when you’re talking about someone’s occupation or other characteristics. Faced with the gender-non-specific term “the teacher”, for example, a translator from English to German would have to decide whether to translate this as “der Lehrer” (male teacher) or “die Lehrerin” (female teacher). Just as with French, the generic masculine has historically been the automatic choice in German in cases where gender is unknown or mixed. This means that when talking about a group of people – even a group of 99 women and one man – the masculine plural would conventionally be used (“die Ärzte” (male doctors) rather than “die Ärztinnen” (female doctors).


To get round this, a range of strategies have been deployed since the 1980s, from the “gender gap” – “die Student_innen” – to the use of a capital “I” – “die StudentInnen”. However, these attempts to make the language inclusive were largely limited to academics and subcultural groups until the last decade, when the “Gendersternchen” (gender star or asterisk) – “die Student*innen” – began to go mainstream, becoming the standard style for many schools, universities and institutions, including some governmental bodies. Nevertheless, there has been pushback from conversative groups in Germany: the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland has campaigned against gender-inclusive language, while the Christian Democrat government in Saxony has banned the use of gender-inclusive language such as gender stars in schools. Other, less polarising options include doubling up (“die Lehrer und die Lehrerinnen”) and non-gendered synonyms (such as “die Lehrkraft” (teaching staff) instead of “die Lehrer/Lehrerinnen).


In 2021, eight German news agencies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland announced a range of measures to avoid linguistic gender bias, including putting women first in constructions such as “Leserinnen und Leser” (female readers and male readers), but stopped short of recommending the use of the gender asterisk or other novel orthographic strategies.


Inclusive language: the way forward


Whatever language you’re communicating in, it’s vital to pay attention to inclusivity to avoid alienating people and to reflect the diversity of your audience. The wide range of strategies might seem bewildering, which is why working with a professional translation agency like ecls translations can be invaluable in helping you find the right approach. As experts in the language and culture of your target audience, we can help you navigate the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches to find the perfect solution based on your target audience, the purpose of your communications and the tone of voice you want to achieve.




*We have deliberately used the term “under-recognised” rather than “under-represented”. For the rationale behind this, see https://hbr.org/2023/04/why-we-should-stop-saying-underrepresented.

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Human translation in the era of machines and AI

Since the first experiments with machine translation in the 1950s, attempts to create a “fully automatic high-quality machine translation system” have been met with hopes as well as fears. Debates around the possibility of replacing human translators with computers go to the very heart of what language is – and what it is to be human. While for decades there’s been an undercurrent of anxiety in the translation industry that human translators might one day become obsolete, this hasn’t happened yet…Why is this, and why do professional human translators continue to outperform computers at almost every level? In this article, we’ll take a look at what machine translation is and how it works, the benefits and drawbacks of machine translation, and how to weigh up whether you need professional human translation, machine translation or a combination of the two for your localisation strategy.


What is machine translation and how does it work?


As the name suggests, machine translation is translation of a text from one language to another, performed automatically (and practically instantaneously) by a computer. There are several types of machine translation, but the main types used today rely on a large number of pre-existing translations arranged as parallel texts, known as a “corpus”. The computer analyses this corpus to find the probability that a certain string of words in the source language (called an “n-gram”) will be translated with a given string of words in the target language, choosing the most likely combination as its final translation. More recently, neural machine translation tools have been developed that have the ability to “learn” and improve their performance as time goes by. Note that “computer-assisted translation” isn’t the same as machine translation: this refers to a range of software tools used by human translators to ensure consistency and efficiency.


What are the benefits and drawbacks of machine vs human translation?


Computers can translate large volumes of text within seconds, so when speed is your main priority, machine translation is hard to beat. The pace at which a human translator is able to translate varies depending on factors such as the complexity of the text, but on average a professional will translate around 2000–2500 words a day. This also means that machine translation generally costs less, because even when you factor in a “machine translation post-editing” stage (known as MTPE, a check carried out by a human translator), the overall time taken to reach the final translation is considerably reduced.


On the other hand, because machine translation relies on a corpus, the quality of the translations it produces depend on the quality of the corpus. This also means that it will replicate any biases in the corpus, potentially leading to issues such as sexism in the translation output. For example, if you take a gender-non-specific term such as “the doctor” in English and use a popular machine translation engine to translate it into Italian, you get “il dottore”, the male doctor. Do the same thing with “the nurse” and you get “l’infermiera”, the female nurse. Problematic, right?


Another problem with the corpus-based approach of machine translation is the fact that it relies on frequency of terms and phrases, which means that the computer will struggle with anything novel or niche. Creative language, neologisms, or unusual technical terminology are all significant stumbling blocks for machine translation. Once again, we can use a well-known free machine translation tool to illustrate this: take the catchphrase from the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, “condragulations” – a play on the words “congratulations” and “drag”. Google translates this into Russian as “pozdravleniya”, which is simply the usual word for “congratulations” and has none of the humour, creativity or wordplay of the source text. The human translators who create the Russian subtitles for the show, in contrast, have come up with the perfect solution: “pozdragliayu”. In more technical fields, a human translator specialising in the relevant field will have the background knowledge to know exactly which word to use to translate a niche term, unlike a machine translation engine trained on general texts, which is likely to use entirely the wrong term or not be able to provide a solution at all.


Machine translation also lacks what we call “common sense”, which means it sometimes comes up with some nonsensical – and often amusing – translations. To give a real-life example, we recently edited a machine translation where the German word “Kater” had been translated as both “male cat” and “hangover” in the same text. Both valid translations in some situations, but not in content related to veterinary medicine! This wouldn’t cause any issues for a human translator, who would instantly know which word to use based on the context, but the statistics-based machine translation tool is prone to mixing terms up given that it has no real-world knowledge or understanding of the bigger picture.


What does the future hold?


Despite the issues we’ve described, machine translation is here to stay – and is likely to become a key part of the toolkit of many international companies in future, thanks to its speed and low cost. Used wisely, it can be a brilliant way to lift barriers to international communication at scale. While human involvement is still needed in most cases, the level of intervention depends on a number of factors, including the characteristics of the source text, the quality of the machine translation tool and the purpose of the final translation.


In a similar way, generative AI is already widely used outside the realm of translation and localisation, for example for content writing, website and app design and support chatbots. As with machine translation, human input is still needed in the majority of cases, particularly where anything non-routine, critical or complex is involved. As a result, new services are emerging such as post-editing of AI-generated copywriting.


Only time can tell how the interaction between machines and humans will develop, but the possibilities of this emerging field are certainly exciting. At ecls translations, we have years of experience in leveraging the potential of machine translation while deploying the strengths of a team of specialist human translators, so we’re perfectly placed to advise you on the best approach for your unique business needs in a rapidly changing environment.


Human translation or machine translation?


There are certainly times when machine translation is a useful and appropriate solution: when you need to get the gist of a text in a foreign language, for example, or when you need a fast translation of a straightforward, non-specialist text. While we would always recommend getting a professional translator to check machine translations for accuracy, they can be a great, fast and affordable option in the right circumstances, offering a way to translate large volumes of text at speed. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, we offer a machine translation post-editing service that is a quick and cost-effective solution while still offering the peace of mind that a professional human translator brings in terms of accuracy.


However, if you need to translate a technically complex, creative or humorous text, we would usually recommend working with a human translator. This is also the case for documents with legal validity or anything intended for high-visibility publication. Our team of professional human translators are selected for their specialist experience and knowledge and can be trusted to create high-quality, accurate and fluent translations that will resonate with your target audience.


Whether you’ve decided which service you need and want a quote, or you’re still not sure whether you need a human translator, we’d be delighted to talk you through the options: just get in touch with the ecls team at info@ecls-translations.com.












Full marketing case study: Opening up new markets for the world’s leading multinational tech company

Location: California, USA

Sector: Advertising / e-commerce

Project: AdWords and keywords 

Language(s): French, German, English


Quote: “It’s very rare to find such an organised team, with 100% on-time delivery and a service score of 99.33/100 for German to English translations.” 


A major new client

In March 2022, ecls translations started working with a world-leading multinational technology company to offer their advertising customers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Canada high-quality, responsive translation services. This exciting partnership via our long-standing client in the language services industry has seen us onboard seven of our translators to handle the large volumes of work and fast turnaround times.


Our work involves translating and proofreading paid search ads and associated keywords for a wide range of products. The main language pairs are German and French to UK and US English. 


We complete all translation and proofreading tasks in our client’s computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool. Our client reviews every translation, sending us feedback using the CAT tool, which we then apply to future projects. The team had to get to grips with this new software quickly while providing high-quality translations. 


Challenges and solutions

Challenge 1: Client specifics


Our team had to complete extensive training and absorb lots of reference material in just a few days. Topics included using the translation software, character restriction rules and handling code elements. We also learned when and how to localise different text aspects and familiarised ourselves with multiple style guides, many containing client-specific instructions.


Solution/Impact: Following the initial training, we created a condensed crib sheet of the most important instructions and shared this with the team for quick and easy reference. We collate feedback from each project, making it accessible to team members to ensure consistency. 


Our translators and proofreaders continuously refer to the core reference materials, and we regularly speak as a team to resolve uncertainties. This approach has ensured that we offer our client an excellent service, as demonstrated by our latest service score: 99.33/100 (German to US English). This score was calculated by our client using their rigorous quality metric.


Challenge 2: Variety


A further challenge comes from the wide variety of subject areas and products our client covers, ranging from the highly technical to the creative. We recently translated adverts for wine and champagne, rubber wheels, and pest control services, to name just a few! 


Solution/Impact: Fortunately, we handpicked a team of highly skilled translators who flexibly apply their excellent research skills, broad subject knowledge and creativity to every area. As a result, we produce a tailored, accurate, fluent and effective translation, regardless of the product or service.


Challenge 3: Unpredictability


The workload is unpredictable but often very large, with over 100,000 words translated in the first few weeks of our partnership. Most translation and proofreading projects also require fast 48-hour turnaround times.


Solution/Impact: To ensure we can handle large volumes of translation at short notice, we onboarded seven translators specifically for our client. We also created a “Standard Operating Procedure” that streamlines our processes, meaning that multiple projects can be quickly assigned to team members.



Summary: High-quality translations bring maximum benefits

Thanks to the excellent service provided by ecls translations, our client can now offer their advertising customers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Canada high-quality, fast, human translations to increase site traffic and boost international sales.


Our service allows our client to flexibly adapt to their customers’ needs, growing or reducing in line with demand. Ultimately, they can enjoy an excellent reputation in new German and French-speaking markets and high customer satisfaction rates, leading to increased customer retention and global sales.


Client testimonial:

Working with Emma and ECLS Translations has been an outstanding experience. Their team's professionalism, expertise, and commitment to excellence have made a significant impact on our organization. Having had the opportunity to collaborate with various team members, I can confidently say that they are an exceptional partner.


Working with Emma has been an absolute pleasure. Her team members are not only highly skilled and knowledgeable in their respective languages but also possess a strong commitment to deliver a top-notch product. From the very beginning, they demonstrated a high level of professionalism, effective communication, and a genuine desire to understand and meet our specific needs. Their collaborative approach, coupled with their willingness to adapt and accommodate changes, made the entire working process smooth and efficient.


The impact of working with ECLS has been transformative for our organization. Their simple and straightforward workflow has significantly enhanced our operations, resulting in improved efficiency and productivity. Their attention to detail and commitment to delivering high-quality results have undoubtedly elevated our performance and allowed us to meet our KPIs consistently, even when others had failed.


Without a doubt, I would gladly work with Emma and her company again in the future. They have consistently exceeded our expectations, demonstrating a deep understanding of our goals and the complicated processes that they needed to follow. I look forward to future collaborations and wholeheartedly recommend them as a reliable and professional partner.

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Full manufacturing case study: Optimising employee training across borders for increased sales

Location: Dornbirn, Austria

Sector: Manufacturing

Project: Training documents

Language(s): German, English


Quote: “The training materials' accuracy, precision and consistency will empower sales staff to make authoritative recommendations to customers, ultimately increasing global sales.”


The project

A recent highlight was a German to UK English translation project we completed for one of our regular end clients, a specialist lighting company with headquarters in Austria.


We were tasked with translating a PowerPoint presentation to be used for internal training. The presentation outlined the suitability of lighting solutions for different contexts and applications, including agriculture and the food industry. 


Focusing on the lighting systems’ resistance to chemicals, impacts and ingress by liquids and foreign bodies, the presentation included detailed information about standards and certificates met by each lighting solution.


Challenges and solutions

Challenge 1: Specialisation

The text covered a range of specialised fields, from animal husbandry to the food industry.


Solution/Impact: Our thorough and targeted research meant we could use highly technical terminology and concepts with accuracy while ensuring the text was easy to understand, even for non-experts. For terminology relating to the core specialisation of our client, we used our client glossary, which helped us to keep our translation consistent within the text and with other translations commissioned by the company. 


Our client can now provide English-speaking employees with clear, informative and consistent training in specific technical areas. Giving employees accurate information and a consistent message helps them explain their products and to make well-founded recommendations to customers working in specialist fields, ultimately strengthening sales.


Challenge 2: Official references

The text contained many references to external standards, regulations, certificates and bodies. Some have ‘official’ English titles and translations, and others do not.


Solution/Impact: Careful research was vital. We used reliable sources such as the EU’s online glossary and a multilingual legal database to identify existing translations of regulations and standards. These tools ensured we used terminology and references that were internally consistent and recognised by the broader industry. 


For laws and standards not already translated into English, we copied the official German title into the translation for clarity and provided an English gloss. This approach equipped employees with accurate information for customers relating to standards and regulations of the different lighting solutions.


Using the correct terms and references in training will assure end customers of the company’s credibility and expertise in their field. The training covered many sectors, such as manufacturing, where precision is critical. Getting references and terminology wrong could seriously affect health and safety or productivity.


Our careful research and accurate use of terminology, concepts, and references mean costly mistakes are prevented and customers can relax in the knowledge that they are in safe hands.


Challenge 3: Visuals

The source text was a presentation that had a strong visual component. When translating, it was essential to consider formatting to make the text clear and concise.


Solution/Impact: We completed our work in specialist translation software but continuously referred to the original presentation to ensure the translation would work in context. We aimed to strike a balance between brevity and clarity while being consistent in our approach to formatting.


We were provided with a style guide by our client, which helped us use their preferred approach to formatting items such as tables and bulleted lists. Paying close attention to formatting allowed us to retain clear and consistent messages within the presentation, maximising the quality and effectiveness of the employee training.


Challenge 4: Volume

The text volume was high, with over 150 slides to be translated and proofread in just a few days. 


Solution/Impact: A computer-aided translation tool helped us to translate quickly and efficiently. The tool’s translation memory flagged text repetitions or previous translations, speeding up the process and ensuring consistency within the text and with other existing translations – saving our client time and money.

To ensure that we provided a top-quality translation despite the limited time available, we relied on our tried-and-tested QA processes. Some of these processes are automated in the CAT tool, while others are carried out by an experienced proofreader with a keen eye for detail. Our client was safe in the knowledge their documents would be completed to this high standard in time for kick-off of their employee training.



The project was varied and information-packed, covering many specialist fields. Our skills and knowledge as technical translators meant we could effectively research specialist terminology and concepts and present clear information to an English-speaking audience. 


We prioritised using appropriate technical terminology and industry-recognised titles when translating references to external standards, regulations, bodies and certificates. We paid close attention to the text’s purpose, ensuring that the formatting, style and length were suitable for a presentation.


Despite the tight deadline, we used a thorough QA process to deliver a clear, accurate, consistent and well-researched final translation. As a result, our client now provides high-quality training to their English-speaking employees.

The training materials' accuracy, precision and consistency will empower sales staff to make authoritative recommendations to customers, ultimately increasing global sales.