May 28, 2015 by Curtis Cotsonis Strategy

What is Translation?

Despite the fact that MailChimp’s Knowledge Base published its first non-English language content early this year, it wasn’t our first translation.

When I took charge of translating MailChimp’s Knowledge Base in February of this year, I recalled Octavio Paz’s essay, “Translation: Literature and Letters,” which opens like so:

“Learning to speak is learning to translate.”

First, one has a thought. Once they speak it or write it down, that’s translation.

Language in the email marketing world is already specific. Some marketers use words and phrases like “eBlast,” “house list,” and “drip campaigns,” but you won’t see us use those words. If you log in to a MailChimp account and take a look around, you’ll see a lot of words that you probably already know. But they have different meanings in the MailChimp context.

We avoid marketing lingo because we want to reach users of all levels. The owner of a local bookstore can get as much out of MailChimp as the email marketing director of a Fortune 500 company. My role is to take MailChimp’s language and combine it with other languages. So, when our international users learn to use MailChimp with the translated KB, they learn the way we talk about marketing, too.

Take the word Campaign, for example. What is the first thing that comes to mind? For many, it’s when a political candidate competes for a position to represent a body of constituents. Now, consider automation. For some, that might bring to mind the telephone answering machine you get that tells you to, “Press 4 for more options…” And then there are terms like Chimp Chatter and MonkeyRewards, which are obviously MailChimp-branded phrases.

Some terms, like Share and Drafts, are more familiar or recognizable. They don’t deviate from their common meaning when used in MailChimp, so they help new users grasp our concepts. Plus, this familiarity exists in languages other than English, so these words are easily translated.

In his essay, Paz continues, “The child who asks his mother the meaning of a word is really asking her to translate the unfamiliar term into simple words he already knows.” As documentarians, we approach our users in a similar way. When concepts are translated into familiar terms, understanding follows. Turns out, we’ve been translating the KB all along.


  • smith shane

    08.29.2015 - reply

    From start to finish, there was not even a single moment that I got tired or fed up of reading your blog. It was so entertaining and interesting. I shared this with my friends and they are huge bloggers, they loved it too. So that means you are pretty good with writing posts. Keep it up. Paul Anderson

  • Nadine

    01.25.2016 - reply

    “When concepts are translated into familiar terms, understanding follows. Turns out, we’ve been translating the KB all along.”

    And you do it very well…
    I’m a french user from a small non-profit company, I know absolutely nothing about marketing and in just 2 days I learnt how to send a fancy newsletter!

    Great job! I really have fun using MailChimp!
    Thank you for this.