What makes a good translation?
Simply put, a good translation is when you don’t realise that you’re reading a translation. But to achieve this is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
In order to convey the written message in its full depth and breadth, appropriate for the target audience in another language and culture, I have to navigate through a maze of terminology, syntax and grammatical rules, linguistic and cultural conventions, explicit and implicit messages and intentions.
Cultural and linguistic systems are never a like-for-like match, so translating sentences or expressions word for word is unlikely to give you a good result. Some elements of the source text are essential and should be kept as close to the original as possible, others are merely stylistic devices of the source language and need to be adapted or even omitted completely, as they would only disrupt the natural flow of the text in the target language. The real skill of a translator lies in knowing which is which.
“I think you’ve got it spot on. Thank you also
for your notes, which were helpful. I do like
the thoroughness of your approach!”
(Nick Rosenthal, owner of Salford Translations Ltd.)
Knowing the language is only the first step
Fluency in the source and target languages is of course a fundamental prerequisite for delivering a good translation. But this alone is not enough.
- Comprehensive general knowledge in both the source and target cultures is essential in order to pick up cultural references in the source text and relay these to the intended target audience – also bearing in mind that what can be assumed as general knowledge may vary significantly from one country to another.
- A good grasp of the subject matter is particularly important when translating a technical text in a specialist field – and this goes much further than just knowing the terminology.
- The translator also needs to be familiar with conventions of style and register that enable the reader to place the text in the correct context and ensure clarity and readability.
Especially for technical texts it is therefore advisable to use a translator with a good grounding in the subject. I continually strive to further my linguistic and cultural knowledge and am keeping abreast of the latest developments in my specialist fields.
My specialist subjects are:
- Chemistry and chemical industry
- Environment and environmental technologies
- Health & safety
Unless agreed otherwise with the client, all my translations are checked by another translator as a matter of course. This is an essential part of my quality control process and recommended good practice in line with industry standards.
What you can do to help ensure a high-quality translation
As a translation client there are a number of things you can do to help:
- If your company has an in-house Style Guide or Tone of Voice guidelines or maintains mono- or multilingual glossaries to ensure consistency of terminology, then please make sure you include them with the texts to be translated.
- Please include as much relevant background or contextual information as possible with your translation brief. This includes any visuals, diagrams or other information that will accompany the text in its final form.
- It is also helpful to have a dedicated in-house contact for terminology or specific technical queries.
- I welcome your feedback, whether in the form of praise or constructive criticism. It’s the best way to make sure my translations hit the mark every time.
The UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting has published a Guide for Translation Buyers full of useful tips and advice on how to avoid unpleasant surprises when sourcing and buying language services.
Finally, one very important request: I appreciate that things don’t always go as planned. But please do try to allow sufficient time for the translation. Translating is not simply a matter of “typing it in another language”. In fact, a high-quality translation can take as much time, thought and careful crafting as it takes to write original copy. So, please make sure your schedule allows for this.
If you have any questions about a specific translation project, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to help.