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A few words on translations


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Sylvain Galibert photoHum. I ain't gonna make a course, but here are a few basic data you should know if you ever get to deal with translations.

Well, translation is a rather codified science. And that is one of the first things to know about it.

The purpose of translation is to pass on an understanding to people in their own language and create the same impact as the original text.

That tells you at once that a translator needs to gain a full understanding of the original text (known as source text) as a first step of the translation process. For instance, in software localization, the simple fact of turning over the software to the translator and answering his questions about it can drastically improve his speed and quality.

I once worked on a software manual, along with 3 other professional translators. We were through ѕ of the translation and none of us could tell exactly what the program was really up to… - no comments. This isn't one I'm really proud of.

After all, each translation is somewhat new to the translator and he will always need to work and research to understand a text. Some will tell you "the translator should know"... Well, if he knows about your latest innovations, you might well sue him for industrial spying. (lol)

Great translations are not made by translators boasting "omniscient knowledge" of a subject. They are made by hard-working knowledgeable translators suffering from acute dictionariosis - a dreadful illness. Affected translators can be recognized by the piles of dictionaries stacking up on their sides and compulsory accesses to online resources.

Machine translation

Understanding. This is actually the main bug with machine translation (MT). Up until the problem of artificial intelligence is solved, a machine does not understand the text you submit. Not a damn bit. It just follows a bunch of rules. Several MT software allow the user to program new rules in an attempt to close in on the text. The "translations" resulting from MT can be very baffling.

Humour, puns, style effects, or even regular text… are all liable to give very surprising results. MT cannot be used for professional translations. However, MT is not worthless. If you want to decipher the meaning of a relatively unimportant text, you can use MT to see what the text roughly talks about and clear up the points you are not very sure on with a professional translator. Eventually, sometimes in the future, someone may crack into A.I. and create a MT able to produce good reliable translations. That would be just fantastic. Hat down! But until then, MT is not an option for any professional. However, there is an other type of software used in the field of translation:

The CATs (Computer Aided Translation)

CATs should not be confused with MT. Not by a long shot. While MT is aimed at DOING a translation, CATs HELP THE TRANSLATOR do the translation. Typically, CATs let the translator view both the source text and his translation. They incorporate a translation memory that contains past translations, so that when the source text is in some way similar to an earlier translation, the CAT proposes the previous translation, helping the translator to remain consistent throughout the text. Some also incorporate a terminology database and can perform simultaneously with MS Word™. There are many CATs on the market, such as Trados™, Worfast™, Star Transit™, Déjа Vu™, SDLX™,… And most of these products are very efficient - although some are trouble due to faulty programming and failure to understand the needs of translators. Well used, CATs can greatly increase both speed and quality of translations.

Translator's mother tongue

Professional translations ALWAYS require the translator to translate toward his own mother tongue. The reason for it is that translations require "the full picture" on the target country (or countries). In other words, one needs to be able to think like someone from the target country. "grammatically correct" is a lot different from "ethnically correct".

There are a lot of nuances a person learns or perceives throughout his education. A translation might be great per the dictionary and yet a screw up on the target country. The most dreadful examples can be found in marketing translations, where a single word can destroy the company's image.

While a non-native translator will crack his brains figuring out if this or that word has a peculiar connotation, a native translator knows right from the start that you should NOT mention this or that " 'cause everybody knows it's bad manners". Even when a translator has travelled several times to the source country and has authored works in the source language, he is unlikely to provide professional top quality translations. So, once again, a translator should ALWAYS translate toward his own language.

Different translation types:

  • Literal translations - by literal translation is meant word-by-word translation. This is the type of translation that can be done by MT. It is mostly incorrect and while it can give a clue on the overall meaning, it might well be misleading. Never accept a literal translation for a paid job. You can get it for free all over the net. (Type "free translations" in a search engine)
  • "For information" translations. This type of translation is a completely accurate translation, but relatively sloppy in several regards. It is a cheap solution, which fits perfectly the standard of internal communications. Remember that for many a translator, this is the default translation level if nothing else is specified. To be considered when speed is a prevalent concern. NEVER use "for information" translation in ad translation.
  • "For publication" translations. High quality translation to be expected. Accurate and written in the requested language level. Excellent spelling and grammar. Text is proofread and typeset. This is an high quality solution but expensive and relatively slow. Do you really need this quality standard? If so, avoid low prices. Remember that while "expensive" is not always a synonym for "great job", "cheap" is all too often one for "poor job". A translator is a skilled technician and his pay is rightfully higher than that of a Mc Donald's waiter. If he doesn't charge a good price, chances are he will do a sloppy job, because he can not afford to spend the needed time.
  • Technical translations. The style is function of the end reader. As a rule, always figure out who is going to read the text and adapt the vocabulary accordingly. Most software user's manuals are way too technical for the average reader to understand. The purpose is to help the end user to use the product, not to show him he is a dummy 'cause he doesn't get what is meant by "set the radio button for active sensing of TCP/IP network connections". A technical translation should always start with an evaluation of the end user and his average understanding on the subject. A translation too complex for the end user is worthless. Exactness of the translation is key, because the people reading it need to be able to USE the materials.
  • Software Localization. This is one of the most specialized technical translations. Beyond technical accuracy, one must take ownership and responsibility for the success of the software in the target language.
  • Literary translations. Not to be confused with Literal translation. One is translating not only the concept, but also excitement, vision, thrill, style, and emotion. People read literary work for pleasure mostly. In this type of translations, style and fluidity are more important then accuracy. A "6.6 feet fellow" is a huge man, and it is unimportant whether one says "2 m" or "1,9812 m". Actually the precision in "1,9812 m" might spoil the effect by taking the reader out of the story. In technical translations however, "6.6 feet" is "1,9812 m" and certainly not "2 m". In literary translations, the translator needs to be somewhat of an author himself.
  • Marketing translation / ad translations. This type of translation is a close relative to the literary translation and a distant cousin to technical translations, as the key is impingement. Getting across the impact of the original text is a key quality. In case of a large campaign, I strongly recommend the use of surveys in the target country. This is the only way to find whether or not an ad will sell. Another key point is that the translator needs access to the positioning and marketing strategy of the company. After all the translator is part of making that strategy happen. Most translators are ready to sign non-disclosure bonds and they take it very seriously. Beware that marketing translations are a VERY specialized type of translations, and a mistake can result in huge losses. Never go cheap on a marketing translation.

To be continued… when I get some time. If you have any comments or questions, please email me. I 'm glad you take the time to write and always answer personally. However, don't expect a novel.



© Sylvain Galibert.
This article is a courtesy of www.your-translations.com, professional English to French translation services.
Your-translations.com offers professional translation services and translation project management. More articles from the same author can be found there.









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