Insights Gleaned from a professional translator

Translation Matters – Insights Gleaned from a Professional Translator




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Being married to a Professional Translator for 16 years and having experienced translation from an executive point of view has made me very keen on ensuring the quality of a translation.  My first article dealing with translation, entitled “Translation Matters - Helpful Tips for Translation Service Buyers” focused on my insights gleaned as an executive responsible for procuring and overseeing translation projects.


The insights that I have gleaned, as one married to a professional translator, over the past many years indeed center on issues of quality.  As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword and that metaphor certainly applies to the work of a translator.   So let’s talk about quality, which while it is generally a tough thing to market (a separate issue), is critical to the success of a translation project and thus it does receive attention by the best translation companies.  So, how do we check the ability of a translator?  By evaluation, of course.


1. If possible, pit two seemingly good translators against each other and see how they evaluate each other’s work.  Is the translator professional in his/her evaluations of another, sticking to facts, such as punctuation, spelling, word choice, and transliteration vs. literal translation, etc.?


By “pit”, I mean have a translator translate a document long enough to be a sufficient test of the capacity and stamina of the translator.  Any translator can put enough effort into a paragraph, but how do you know it wasn’t done without assistance from someone else?  That assistance isn’t likely to be made available to a translator when faced with a 2,000, let alone a 200,000-word translation project, is it?  In other words, the translator can easily solicit lots of feedback for help with a special project, such that the translation reflects not the raw abilities of the translator himself.


2. Check credentials.  This is more easily said than done.  How do you know which school in Thailand puts out the professional translator vs. one that simply teaches language basics?  That could require more digging than you have time for, but it is possible to ask questions of the translators themselves to resolve this, even if you get somewhat conflicted responses.  One will likely emerge as the clear winner.


3. Attention to detail.  Even credentials cannot supplant the care and diligence of one translator over another.  Even if I have three PhD’s in the areas of specific concern to your project material, I may not be a careful translator.  In fact, I may be quite sloppy. If I were a hamburger commercial, I might be the one that drips ketchup all over before it gets to your mouth.  Testing is critical here as well, as you can ascertain which translator follows your instructions explicitly.  Start with a small project if at all possible.  It’s easier to recover, if you make a selection mistake.


I hope these tips are useful and make a meaningful difference to your translation projects.  If you’d like to write to me and offer other tips you’ve discovered, please do so, I’d be delighted.  I should say something better than “good luck” with your translation projects, so how about “good testing”?


Copyright 2005 Thomas Mayhew