HOW TO ACHIEVE A GOOD TRANSLATION

Introduction

The increase in technological advancement these days has placed a demand upon practitioners in the translation industry to constantly improve their quality service delivery.

As a freelance translator with over ten years experience, I consider it necessary to share with others few things I have learned on the job which I believe should benefit colleagues and help remain relevant in the competitive language industry.

Therefore, this write-up on ‘how to provide a good translation’ is presented from the perspective of a freelance practitioner.  It will begin with a definition of the word, ‘translation’, the prospects in the translation industry, who should be a translator, how does a good translation look like, and how to achieve a good translation.

  • What is Translation?

The word, ‘ translation’ comes from the Latin word “translatio”, which means “carrying across” or “bringing across”.  Subsequently, the word has been defined by various people from different perspectives. Marie Lebert, a translator expert, defined translation as the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. In academics, translation studies is regarded as an interdiscipline that includes many fields of study (like comparative literature, computer science, history, Linguistics, , semiotics, terminology, philology), such that a translator has to specialise in an area to practise like legal, medicine, technical or literary.

However, in this context, translation shall be used to mean the process of conveying the meaning of a word or text from one language to another.  Translation involves three elements: the translator; the source language; and the target language.

Effective translation requires that the translator have a good grasp of both languages in terms of diction, syntax, proverbs, and idioms.  For instance, a proverb in Yoruba language, ‘Ẹni ti kò mọ̀’nà kì í dá pàdé-pàdé’ means ‘The person who does not know the route to take does not agree on a short-cut route with others.  In other words, a person who is ignorant of a thing should not hide it.  He should speak out and call for help.

Recently, translators have got to grapple with many threats occasioned by the internet in the global market.  These include lower fees, joblessness due to advancement in technology, and the rise of volunteer translations!  These are often promoted by big organisations who do not hire professional translators, though they have enough budgets to do so.

Prospects for the Translation industry

Growth of translation market: It is gratifying to note that the translation market has not, and will not, be heavily affected by global recessions.  This is due to the increased demand for translation services arising from the growing number of internet users, coupled with the need for different organisations to transact business in different regions.

Industry analysis and trends: The development of the translation industry has continued unabated despite global economic instability since 2008.  This is because the marketing of products overseas has increased the demand of corporate organisations for translation services so as to reach their multicultural audience in multilevel marketing.

In this respect, industry analysis reveals that the US represents the largest single market for translation services, followed by Europe, and Asia.    According to the US Bureau of Statistics, the translation industry is expected to grow by 42% between 2010 and 2020 due to globalization.  This could increase based on faster and more reliable translations.

Small Enterprises:  As a result of growth in technology, goods and services of small businesses now get to global market; and this compels them to obtain translation services for effective communication with their multicultural clients.

Machine Translation Technologies:  Machine translation Technologies also enables a brighter future for the translation industry.  Free translation tools have been proliferated like Google translate, Pangenic company as well as others like adaptive MT, Nneural MT, and innovative CAT tools like Lilt with its adaptive translation, and pocket translation devices like Pilot, Travis and Ill.  This is a boost for the freelance translators and interpreters.

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The reason is that all these technologies are too complex or expensive; and they use proprietary technologies that can only be developed by multinationals.  Moreover, their reach is limited by budgets and so currently do not stretch as far as to swallow the traditional language industry.  Besides, technology is too unreliable for business results.  For instance, no machine is good enough to translate agreements, and business communication flawlessly, neither can computer programmes ever displace the logic and reasoning skills that human translators bring to projects.  So, technology will only continue to serve as a tool to improve efficiency in future.

In addition, however much potential the machine technologies might have, they are still in their infancy; so their potential troubles, complexity and expense make them unlikely to be adopted in the near future by a wider audience.  Consequently, the unwillingness of industry professionals to adopt them implies that they will not displace translators and interpreters in the immediate future.

Technical Translations:  Another prospect is translation of technical related documents which is expected to grow beause of manufacturing changes, higher exports, and higher availability of more devices and gadgets.

According to Common Sense Advisory findings in “The Language Services Market: 2018, the demand for language services and supporting technologies continues and is growing at an annual rate of 7.99%, representing an increase over the previous year’s rate of 6.97%.  Sixty-four per cent of surveyed language services provider (LSPs) said revenue was up over the previous year.  Factors driving this demand include among others, personalized customer services, with products packaged in customers’ own language.

In conclusion, global business cannot succeed without translation.  Therefore, practitioners in the language industry only need to be more creative, qualitative and proficient their service delivery.

 

  • Who should be a Translator?

The translation profession is not an all-comers job.  It requires more than having a flair for writing or the ability to express an idea accurately in two different languages.  As a good translator, you must possess certain competencies, including but not limited to the following:

1. Native Speaker

You must be a native speaker of the target language; and also have a good command of the source language.  This will enable you to effectively convey the nuances in the source text, like slangs, dialects and cultural differences, that will affect the final product.  The almost flawless knowledge of both languages will make a superb translation.

2. Vocabulary.

You must be a word-smith: rich in words and technical terms of both the source and target languages. This will ease the translation process, and enhance your quality output.

3. Pricing and Rates

You must be conversant with the current rate for your language combination, so as to value yourself appropriately.  If in doubt, you can always consult professional colleagues for guidance.  However, you should be flexible enough to work within the client’s budget, especially when it involves high-volume projects.

4. Experience

Relevant work experience is an important factor to make you a good translator.  This includes years of hands-on experience doing translation work with CAT tools.    As a translator, experience takes years to build, so  you need not worry if you are just beginning; just go on steadily doing your good job, this will build up your experience later.

It is also important to keep yourself abreast of CAT tools technology in the translation industry.

5. Specialization

Clients are always interested in translators who are experts in particular fields, especially for projects that require specialized knowledge. Therefore, specialize in your area of interest like medicine, engineering, law, or business.

For instance, if you are working in the medical field, without necessarily training as a doctor, you should have a knowledge of how the human body works, the names of diseases, and how the pharmaceuticals work inorder to provide an accurate translation in the target language.

6.  Pleasant Personality

 

As a translator you should be pleasant to work with; this will guarantee a steady flow of job to you.   Be polite when communicating about contract terms, or when you have to decline an offer.  All this makes for good human relations without which you may be boycotted, even if you produce high-quality work.

  1. Honesty

Another important thing is to be honest enough to accept assignments that you are comfortable with; and decline a project that you are not a good fit for.  This will show you to be credible and professional.

If you take on too much work because of the alluring extra money, but miss a deadline, the opportunity cost can be disastrous.  Therefore, be honest enough to  say, ‘No’ to an offer when you have to; and aim to deliver a translation that you can be proud of.

  1. Passion

You need to have a natural passion for languages, and translating high quality work otherwise, the job will become dull and will reflect in your output and quality.

Readiness to research is another competency.  When you find some word difficult, note it down for future research; and be humble enough to accept possible corrections from the proofreader.

  1. Responsiveness

As a good translator, you should develop the habit of responding promptly  to your client. Your job is fast-paced, and you stand the chance of being favoured by the client over those who must be contacted several times.

This means that you have to check your email at reasonable intervals in a day, and respond fast to your client’s mail. Even if you do not have enough time to provide a detailed information to a request, a quick acknowledgement with a promise to respond fully soon will go a long way in assuring the client that you are in touch.

  1. Communication

Ensure smooth communication flow with your client.  Make yourself clear about your availability, itinerary, vacation period, and project-related information. This type of communication will reassure your client that the project is on course, and you make yourself easier to work with.

11. Meticulous

As a professional translator, you must pay attention to details; things like numbers, formatting and punctuation need close attention.

 

Translators who catch inconsistencies, such as wrong spellings or mismatched dates in the source files, and bring them to the client’s attention stand out in a very positive way.  Whereas, translators who are careless in these areas stand the chances of losing patronage unless they change.

12. Meeting Deadlines

One important thing you can do well to distinguish yourself as a translator  is to meet deadlines. You should always work to meet the deadline when the project is assigned.  No excuses, no story.  If possible, you can even deliver ahead of the deadline.  Remember the cliche, ‘underpromise, but overdeliver’

In case you need extra time, it is better to ask sooner rather than later. In fact, you can negotiate the deadline before you accept the project.

 

How to achieve a good translation

You can know and achieve a good translation through the following ways:

  1. Naturalness – A good translation must be natural, conveying the impression that it was originally written in that target language, and reflecting idioms and cultures in the source text. For instance, a Yoruba adage, ‘Ẹni tó bá fẹ dàgbà, kò ní gba ọ̀pá lọ́wọ́ àgbà’.  Translated, it becomes, ‘Whoever wants to grow old, will not take away the walking stick of an aged’. It means that whatever you sow, you shall reap.

You can ensure naturalness, after proofreading a translation for accuracy and completeness, by allowing an editor to go through the document and make sure that it reads smoothly as if it were originally written in the target language.

  1. Consistency – A word has many translations, but you should be consistent in using the chosen one throughout the text. This makes a good translation.   For instance, the word, ‘Notice’ in Yoruba language can be ‘ìfiyèsí’ or ‘àkíyèsí. So, during translation, whichever of these two you chose should be used consistently throughout the text.
  2. Adherence – Adherence to the project guideline is another sign of good translation. Therefore, by all means follow the guidelines provided with the project.  Feel free to seek clarifications from the project manager when necessary.
  1. Accuracy – You have to check the completed translation to ensure that it is accurate, devoid of grammatical errors, missing phrases, or A translation filled with lots of errors puts a question mark on your credibility as the translator that produced it.
  1. Clarity – You should present all the information and nuances of the source text clearly and unambiguously. This impIies that your translation should read much better than the original; and be easily comprehensible and well written, no matter how poor the original document may be.

6. Author’s Mood – Your translation must capture the mood of the author.  You can achieve this by using words and expressions that can transmit the author’s  thought, feelings and attitudes to convey the same feeling to the reader.

7. Cultural sensitivity – To produce a good translation, you need to be sensitive to the culture of your target audience. For instance, specific items pertaining to religious figures, sports or country may offend the reader. You should either re-adapt such references into the culture of the target language or exclude them in the source document before translation begins.

8. Target Audience – A good translation should target its Therefore, write at the level of your target audience. For instance, a scientific text should be translated at a much higher reading level than would be for a general group. Similarly, if you are translating a document for a particular country, use appropriate terms and expressions, including metric conversions and spelling changes of that country.

9. Quality Control – As a freelance translator, incorporate a quality control stage into your translation process before delivering. Make it a policy never to send a job to your client without having checked it beforehand.  Technology has made things easy; therefore, revise your work always before submission using tools such as XBench or QA Distiller, especially when handling many files, and keep all of them consistent.

The above should help you to deliver a high quality translation service.

Additional Tips on How to Achieve a Good Translation

  1. Revise the document(s) and files before starting a translation. Read all instructions that come with the job: they provide the direction in which the translation must follow.
  1. Confirm all the files and documents that you received that they are the ones the client needs before you start the translation.
  1. Assure the Project manager that you are comfortable with the subject matter and the language style.
  1. Expand your business, invest time in understanding and mastering the terminology of the translation fields in which you are not an expert.
  1. Ensure quality checking and revision.
  1. Make sure you are familiar with the file format; and use the CAT tool your client has specified.
  1. Maximise the use of all reference materials, style guides, glossaries and terminology databases that have been sent to you; and be consistent with the terminology and style of previous jobs.

8. Contact your Project Manager immediately for clarification in case there are quality issues with the material you have been provided with; or if you encounter or foresee any problems with the document.

  1. If there is time constraint, follow the pattern of the previous work, but note in a separate file any issues while working, and report it later as a feedback to the Project Manager. This will enhance your reputation as a serious, quality-minded translator.
  1. As a freelancer, do some background work before you begin to translate; research the topics, and get other online resources specific to the topic you are translating for easy reference. For instance, if you are going to translate medical devices, like stethoscope, find the brand’s website in your language, and locate the manufacturer’s competitors as a source of good terminology and style.
  1. Avoid word-for-word carbon copy of a foreign language. It is not acceptable unless you are into technical materials like medical translations, pharmaceutical, engineering, law, software and patents, because expressions and idioms in these seldom translate literally from one language to another.
  1. When you have finished your translation, spellcheck and correct any spelling mistakes and typos. Edit, read over, and compare the document to the original. Re-read to make sure that the translation makes sense. This will certainly delight your client.
  1. Run your spellchecker again, to make sure everything is fine; and remember to include any notes or comments for your client or for the editors about the translation in your delivery file.
  1. Thank the Translation Project Manager for the job and look forward to the next one. In the absence of any issues to raise, add that the job went smoothly.