Translating the Tube

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You may have heard London’s long-standing tube network hit a milestone this month, 150 years old! 270 stations, more than 200 miles of track and an incredible 3 million passengers a day on average, that’s a lot of newspapers.

It’s been a busy time for our friends at Transport for London, with more than half a million foreign visitors pitching up to enjoy both the Olympics and Paralympics last summer alone. With an influx of so many people using the iconic tube network, Transport for London had to make sure that everyone was able to find their way around, a pretty epic task!

TfL turned to us a good few years ago to help overseas visitors understand the web of stations, interchanges and continuous service updates that commuters rely on to make their daily jaunts across London as straightforward as possible.

Every few months, our team of translators, Project managers and specialist designers work together to make London’s tube map available in more than 14 different languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, French, German, Spanish and Urdu to name just a few. Given that the City of London had more than 15 million foreign visitors in 2011, that’s a pretty huge responsibility.

All in a week’s work for the team at K (Phew!).

It’s quite an undertaking I can assure you, here are the steps we take to ensure everyone knows where they’re going…

  1. TfL sends us the new artwork for the tube map, now you may think “isn’t it always the same?”, No is the answer – we check through every detail of the map, every graphic, copyright notice and piece of text that appears, to find any bits that need translating (there’s a lot).
  2. Once we have a handle on all the changes – be it new station information, temporary closures, new items on the Legend etc. We pass the text to our specialist translator, they check it against previous maps and other TfL tour information to ensure the language is consistent and appropriate.
  3. Now it’s the proofreaders turn, they cast their specialist, hypercritical eyes over every portion of the text – making sure the tone, style and quality are up to TfL’s rigorous standards. Every section of the tube map is analysed in detail, to ensure nothing gets missed or could be confusing to the passenger.
  4. Once we have our text ready to go, it’s time for the designers to step up. They will take the text and update the English. Sounds like a simple copy & paste job, right? No way, the reason being, English is quite a concise language when compared to something like German for example. A paragraph in German can take up to 40% more space, than the equivalent in English. We need to make it fit, we don’t have much room and we need to make sure it’s still clearly Transport for London’s design, no mean feat (especially when we work on Arabic and other languages that are read from right to left!). It’s a good thing our designers are spot on when it comes to localising documents and dealing with everything a design translation can throw up. We have literally seen it all and fixed it.
  5. So now we’ve got our translated tube map, what next? As good as we are, we are still human (well most of us in the office), we all make mistakes. This isn’t good enough for us – so it’s back to the translator to go over the finished document with a fine-tooth comb – every aspect is checked again to ensure no errors have been made at any stage of the process.
  6. Sorted! It’s ready for TfL… now let’s get on with the other 15 languages.

It’s a credit to TfL that they understand the importance of making their services accessible to such a broad market. It also demonstrates the potential benefit of offering your products, whatever they may be, to people abroad.

Our dedicated team here at K International are trusted by a global network of high-level brands to deliver quality and reliability at every stage of their projects, be it translation, proofreading, design or anything else you can think of to help the brand succeed. Contact one of our team today to find out how we can help you.