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Polishing Your Translation Style - Part 2

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Part 2 of the series “Polishing Your Translation Style,” focuses on the machinations of grammar. Sounds like a grand, all encompassing ambition. But rest assured the goal is to simply highlight a few common errors that persist in translation products-nothing but a few tips and techniques to give shine to your style!

Run on sentences do not translate well

Japanese to English translations can often be challenging. This is because as a language, Japanese emphasizes subtleness that produces multiple phrases in run-on sentences. The object of these marathon sentences is dropped in at the end. Obviously this does not translate well.

Run on-sentences should be reconstructed with a single idea or thought per sentence. Not only will the translation be easier, but it will read better. Do not be shy about taking the knife to unwieldy sentences!

Omitted words are not translated

In the English language, much is implied and therefore omitted. It is common to do away with constructions such as “that.” An example of this point would be "I know that I can do it!" which often becomes "I know I can do it!" in the translated text. Some languages require these constructions, and the translation would be incorrect without them.

There are numerous other words, such as particles (“the”) that are often omitted in English. Indeed, all languages have these grammatical "quirks" that are ill-defined. A simple rule to follow is that if you are not sure, do not omit it.

Acronyms can be misleading

And that, translators, can lead to the "lost in translation” malaise. Take “ASAP”, for example. Now, everyone knows that ASAP stands for “as soon as possible,” right? Think again! According to acronymfinder.com (http://www.acronymfinder.com), “ASAP” has roughly 90 definitions including “as soon as possible.”

The definitions of acronyms vary from language to language, and are very much dependent on the reader’s professional training and background. Avoid using acronyms in your translations. And, where you absolutely have to use an acronym, provide the definition. Use an easy to understand format such as “Applied Securities Analysis Program (ASAP).”

Avoid Abbreviations

If I have convinced you that acronyms can be misleading, and therefore should be qualified with a definition in an easy to understand format, you will have no problem in adopting the same format for abbreviations. If you still need convincing, then lookup “ATM.”

Do a double check on a double check!

Numbers, dates, times, and names-check, double check, and then check again.

Japanese is on of those languages that has a particularly un-wieldy number system. One billion, for example, translates as 10 one hundred million(s). In doing a Japanese to English translation on super computers, I achieved a level of notoriety by turning one of the fastest computers on the planet into a "that is so last year” has been-I inadvertently dropped a single digit of the machine’s teraflop speeds. Fortunately, it was caught at proof reading.

Here is what you do. Create a spreadsheet, and list the numerals of your native language, for example English, on the left and the corresponding numerals of the target language in the adjacent cell on the right. It should look like this: 1,000,000,000 (1 billion, English) -> 10, 0000, 0000 (1 billion, Japanese).

When deadlines are looming large and you have your balls to the wall, it is easy to confuse numbers, dates, and times especially when different formats are required. Develop handy cheat sheets-nothing fancy or complicated-to reference at a glance.

Consistency rules

Your writing style should be creative and varied (refer to Polishing Your Translation Style-Part 1). The technical aspect of your style, however, must be consistent. For example, acronyms and abbreviations should be defined in a consistent format throughout you translation work. If you have adopted a particular word or phrase for a term, ensure that you consistently use the same term throughout. For example, an “aircraft” is an “aircraft,” and not alternatively a “plane,” an “airplane,” or a “flying object.”


Adopting a translation style that puts you on a level by yourself is easy-following the 6 simple steps above and apply these steps to your translation projects. Clients' will be asking for you by name!

About the Author:

Ivan Vandermerwe is CEO of Saeculii, LLC., the owner of Saeculii Professional Translation Service. Visit Saeculii Professional Translation Service for the latest translation articles and news.

Copyright © 2005 Saeculii, LLC. All rights reserved.

Reproduction of this article is permitted with inclusion of the "About the Author" reference as is (including text links, http://www.saeculii.com/), and this copyright information. Articles may not be altered without written permission from Saeculii, LLC.

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