Translation standards - who needs them?
asks Andrew Fenner, member of the UK Mirror Group
working on the CEN Standard for the provision of translation
services as public consultation gets under way
of the UK Mirror Group
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There once was a
time when translation was largely undertaken by individuals,
for individuals. Then globalisation arrived, with
businesses seeking to market worldwide, and national
populations becoming increasingly heterogeneous: external
and internal globalisation, as it were. With this,
the demand for translation has increased way beyond
what any individuals can provide; to avoid embarrassment
and worse, translation clients have to be certain
their message is being conveyed in other languages
(even other forms of English) correctly. We have gone
past the point where we can leave it to individual
professionals to ensure things get done correctly.
We are in the era of mass translation.
individuals and organisations operating in this field,
this means we have to get translation right, first
time, every time. We have to be certain that the work
we produce is what our clients want, and that clients
know what they have to produce for any given sector
number of organisations have tried, and are trying,
to define translation standards: if not what the product
itself should be (because defining what a 'good' translation
is in the absence of context is virtually impossible,
perhaps), then about the procedures we should use
in producing it. Attempts are being made, both within
individual languages, such as SAE J 1930 in the automotive
industry, and between languages, such as DIN 2345
and, now, the CEN translation standard, which appears
to have arisen initially out of the concerns and efforts
of the European Union of Associations of Translation
Companies (EUATC), although it has now been expanded
to include representatives of the profession as a
CEN standard attempts to define what is required for
translation to take place, how the various parties
involved should deal with one another, and what they
can and cannot expect of the results.
of the fundamental things which translation standards
establish is that translation actually exists: it
does not just 'happen', it is something that has to
be done, and someone has to do it. That may sound
bizarre, until you realise how many people think it
is simply a matter of 'typing it out in French'. Like
many service industries, the better the service, the
less effort it appears to involve; but many potential
and actual clients have little or no idea what translation
involves, and don't want to know either.
second major implication of translation standards
for clients is that they have obligations too. Like
choosing the right service provider to do the job,
and making sure they have all the resources they need
to do the job, such as the correct terminology and
background information. There may have been a time
when translators were some kind of 'elevated experts',
who were presumed to know everything and simply did
the job in isolation. Those times are gone.
do translation standards mean for translation service
a translation organisation, one of the simplest but
also the most fundamental requirements is that a translation
should be checked (revised, edited or whatever term
is used) by someone other than the person who did
the original translation. The original translator
may be a person within that organisation, or a (freelance)
subcontractor, it makes no difference which.
are two fundamental implications here: that the translation
organisation (or 'translation service provider' in
the CEN speak) must actually check the translation
before sending it out to the client. Merely taking
it out of the translator's envelope, or internal file
folder, and putting it an envelope or e-mailing it
to the client is not enough.
is hardly necessary to say what this implies for less
stringent translation companies; but, then again,
these are the people the standard is designed to eliminate.
it implies that translation service providers must
actually have linguists (or at least people who can
read) on their staff, who understand the issues involved
in translation. This is not always the case at present,
as I can testify personally.
do translation standards mean for translators? Does
having their work checked by another person relieve
them of liability for the quality of the work they
produce? Not at all. For my own part, I can safely
say that knowing that an organisation I am translating
for will check my work does not make me less concerned
to produce a quality job - quite the opposite. If
I know the company I am doing a job for does nothing
to check my work, and merely puts it in their envelope
and adds a healthy markup, will that not make me less
inclined to worry about the product, if anything?
It also helps to know that the TSP I am working for
will approach the client to obtain reference and background
material if required. Care breeds care.
CEN standard, and other standards (such as ASTM/ATA)
are about working together; which can only have a
good effect in combating the isolationism that has
been endemic among translators. "This could mean the
end of the 'poor' translator - in all senses of the
word," to quote Liz Robertson of the BSI CEN Mirror
standards are adopted in the translation industry,
they will inevitably have knock on (or 'knock back')
effects elsewhere. Educational establishments training
translators will have to start training them to work
to standards, and establish their own standards accordingly.
The quality of undergraduate and postgraduate translation
courses on offer varies wildly, if the UK is anything
to go by; but there is a major initiative under way
at European level here, the Bologna Agreement to establish
the European Higher Education Area by 2010. In the
interests of 'free movement of professionals and professional
services' (as amongst doctors and lawyers), this requires
all university courses to be validated and approved
(validated mutually and by government authorities)
by 2010. Any courses which do not meet standards will
find themselves deprived of funding. "Live up or die"
as it were. It does not take much imagination to realise
that the effects of this could be devastating.
who needs translation standards? All of us do, clients,
translation service providers and translators. The
idea of the 'global village' may have been around
since the 1960s, but it is now an established reality;
even protests against globalism have themselves become
a global phenomenon. We can no longer afford not to
understand what we - all of us - are saying.
article was originally published in Communicate -
the Association of Translation Companies' newsletter
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