Working effectively with translators
As a good starting point, check out the web site of the American Translators
Association, www.atanet.org. While
there, click on the offer to download a copy of the booklet "Translation
- getting it right". Some of the major points from the booklet are
repeated here, with additions:
Is money important to you?
- Do you need it translated at all? Perhaps a translator who knows
what you need can tell you that without actually doing a translation.
- You may not need all of a document translated. Perhaps a translation
of the author's summary will be enough, at least to let you know whether
you need the rest. Biographies of authors may be irrelevant. A long
list of references cited can be expensive to translate without being
- If the original document is still being revised, wait for the
final version if you can.
- If the original document has not been written yet, and is intended
for international use, remind the author to avoid jokes, slang, local
and political references, and the like. That applies even for English
speakers in London, Los Angeles, Sydney, or New Delhi. (One interpreter
says "The American has told a joke. Everyone please laugh.")
- Advertisements in particular present problems. It is often
best to find the strong points of the product (perhaps by translation)
and to start fresh with a copywriter in the 'target' language.
Do you want the best translation for your money? Then either directly
or through a translation company:
- Work with a translator who grew up in the country where the translation
will be read. The importance of that varies somewhat with the subject
-- relatively low for a detailed procedure for synthesizing a new chemical,
and critical for advertising to the general public.
- Work with a translator who knows the subject matter. My academic
training and experience are primarily in chemistry, microbiology and
pharmaceuticals. I would not be a good choice at all for a financial
report or a newspaper article on German politics.
- Tell the translator who will be reading the translation. Will it
be a patent attorney, or a group of chemical engineers? Senior citizens?
- Be open to questions and suggestions from the translator. The translator
may be the first person to read the document carefully since it left
the author. The translator may find portions of sentences missing in
the original text, clearly misused terms, and apparent errors. The original
text may have a term that is recently coined, or that is used only,
or with a special meaning, in a narrow field. Expect questions in cases
Think about accuracy and precision.
- The translator will normally run a computer spell-check on the finished
translation. That catches many typing errors; but if you have experience
with that process, you will know that the spell-checker will not question
a word that is in the spell-checker dictionary, even if it is wrong
for that place in that translation.
- The translator will normally edit the translation, looking for errors
that the spell-checker missed incorrect capitalization, wrong numbers,
weird wording and missing text. But quality control people realized
long ago that even 100% inspection does not give zero defects. I have
found that I catch more errors if I let the document cool off for a
week or so, but clients usually do not have time for that. Even better,
I can have another translator edit the translation; but again, that
takes time and is an extra service that adds to the cost.
- Translation companies usually do another editing. That is good because
a second person will find more errors than the translator. However,
occasional translation companies do not edit, and among those that do,
the extent of editing can vary from making sure that there are no missing
paragraphs to having a second translator compare the original and the
translation sentence by sentence. The level of editing will be reflected
in the cost. You might not always get what you pay for, but very rarely
will you get more than you pay for.
- Sometimes translators are asked to review the editor's changes. This
is good, though the importance depends on the editor. There are editors
whose changes will, I know, almost always be improvements. In other
cases I have found about 5% improvements, about 5% errors, and about
90% minor styling changes.
- After all that, there may still be imperfections. You are the final
specialist in your field. Do not accept everything blindly. If a statement
seems questionable, it may be wrong, and might have been wrong in the
original document. Ask! If a particular wording or shade of meaning
is important, your preference may be acceptable to the translator. On
checking one of my English dictionaries, I find 24 entries defining
"once", 65 definitions/synonyms for "strain" and
91 for "go". The translator can use only one. Getting the
best one is a major part of the art of translating, but even so there
is often room for variants. If it is important, ask!
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Copyright © 2010 Denzel Dyer, all rights reserved.