17 Mar /15

Ingredients for a Quality Translation

Join us in this three part series which focuses on the work of translators. We’ll take a look at what’s involved in the work of translating a source language into a target language and consider the question: “What determines a quality outcome?” On the way, we’ll also meet some of our in-house translators who explain the challenges they meet when translating.

Read these articles to be better informed about the work of translation and to understand what goes into producing a quality translation.

Part I Ingredients for a quality translation: linguistic ability

Part II Ingredients for a quality translation: the translator’s work skills

Part III Ingredients for a quality translation: the in-house environment


Part I Ingredients for a quality translation: linguistic ability

Stories in the news of supermarket price wars are nothing new. Every week it seems a major supermarket is “slashing the prices of its competitors”. Some stores will try to persuade you that when you shop at other stores with higher prices, you are simply paying for a brand name. But have you ever compared the ingredients of a famous brand name tomato sauce with the supermarket’s own cheaper version? One is 80% tomatoes with a sprinkling of herbs and vinegar, and the cheaper version is 5% tomatoes with a whole series of E numbers to create the flavor of tomato. The translation industry works like tomato sauce: there are variations in quality and reasons to explain different prices.

Consumers of translations sometimes underestimate the level of skill that is required to produce a quality translation and emerging trends for low-cost translation through strategies such as crowd sourcing can act to undermine professional standards. It’s important to understand, however, that quality translations require, at their foundation, professional translators. You can’t pay for 5% tomatoes and get 80%.

But what does the term “professional translator” mean? Perhaps the criteria can be broken down into two areas: linguistic ability and the translator’s work skills. In Part I, we’ll look at linguistic ability.

For EVS Translations, the key to a perfect translation is the quality of its ingredients, so investing in talented linguists is essential. But for translation, the term “talented linguist” can’t be defined by language qualifications alone, since these do not prove translation ability. It shouldn’t be assumed that, for example, a university graduate of a languages degree can translate your 10,000 word technical Italian manual just because they speak Italian.

The skill of reading a foreign language text and transferring that information into the target language is not easy and takes time to develop. Source languages and target languages are structured differently and may contain cultural references or concepts that do not make sense or even exist in the target language. For inexperienced translators, it proves a difficult challenge to create a translated text that doesn’t sound unnatural to the target audience. A problem which is prevalent in “beginner translations” is wording that remains so faithful to the source text that the target language is awkward to read – and this is certainly not how you want your website, annual report or legal agreement to read. Here are some problems our translators sometimes face when translating their language pair:

Japanese sentences often omit the subject of a sentence. In more complex texts, this can start to cause a headache.

Example: “Tabetara, iku” (literal translation: “after eaten, go”)

This could mean “I’ll go after I’ve eaten”, or “she’ll go after she’s eaten” and so on. Since Japanese verb endings don’t change according to “I”, “you”, “her”, etc., there is no clue as to who the writer is talking about. In a text with multiple people being represented, things can start to get confusing, so the translator really needs to understand the larger context to get the translation absolutely right. Skilled translators do this well, inexperienced translators might completely miss the mark.

  • EVS UK, Lucy

German source texts, especially legal ones, often contain long sentences. English generally uses shorter sentences, forcing translators to break up the original text, which requires some careful thought. This gets easier the more you do it.

  • EVS USA, John

Sometimes texts refer to a very German-specific thing that English speakers won’t know about. In one text like this, a client made a reference to a joke in a German commercial, but I decided to edit this out since it would make no sense to the English reader.

  • EVS USA, Hali

An expert translator will effectively strike the balance between staying faithful to the source text and moving away from it so that the translated text meets the expectations of the target audience.

The skill of effectively transferring information from the source language into the target language, however, is not the only one required. The major issue for the budding translator is to learn how to successfully apply their linguistic skills to a real work situation.

Join us for Part II

Part II in this series looks at a translator’s work skills and also criteria relating to professional competence according to industry standard EN-15038:2006.