Post-editing a Translated Document

Post-editing a translated text generally refers to the process of making a machine translated document more accurate or readable. The level of post editing required depends on the quality of the source text, the quality of the machine translation, and the overall level of perfection agreed on between the client and translation service.

In short, the demand for translated text has historically been greater than the translation marketplace could handle. As a result, the push for documents to be translated into local languages to meet an ever-expanding global business market led to many substandard translations being accepted. With the advances in machine translation, the increase in language pairs, and the expansion of the translation market, the acceptance of low-quality translations is quickly waning. The increased competition in the international marketplace has placed a premium on quality from presentation to product.

Despite the growing need for exceptional translation services, the number of qualified translators and the time it takes to translate documents by hand once led to a bottleneck in many parts of the industry. One of the solutions to this dilemma was post-editing machine translated documents. In the past, this did not save much time because in the time it took to edit the many errors the machines made the document could have been translated properly by a human. With the tremendous advances in computer translation, however, post-editing a machine translated document in established language pairs can produce a native-level document in 10-20 percent less time, or more.

Post-editing Options for Machine Translations

Machine translations are better than ever before. Even the best machines cannot produce human quality translations, however. Even with advanced translation memory databases, figurative language, cultural nuance, and field-specific text create inaccurate or hard to read translations. The solution is to have a human translator with a native-level fluency go over the document after it has been translated and fix the errors. There are three main levels of “fixing”:

  • Light Post-editing. With this option, the translator makes sure that the text is readable. There is very little done in the way of content, nuance, or advanced grammar. If the main gist is good enough, then this is the right level of post-editing for you.
  • Full Post-editing. A full post-edit has many variations based upon the agreement reached between the client and the translation service. After a full post-edit, the text should be easy to read, understandable, highly accurate, and any glaring faux pas should be eliminated. A text that has been fully post-edited can be safely disseminated, but will likely be identified as a translated document.
  • Human-level edit. The top-end of post-editing is a text that is indistinguishable from a product that has been translated by a human, and the standard for a top-quality human translation is that it reads as though it were written in the target language. A post-edit of this quality should have all idioms and figurative language translated into relevant and culturally understood variations, so that the full intent of the message is understood by the local reader. There should be nothing that would identify this document as having been translated from another language.

All variations of the post-edit check to make sure that no information has been accidentally deleted or added by the machine, ensure that obvious offensive or insensitive words or references are removed, and verify the basic rules of spelling. If you want verification of key terminology, punctuation, grammar, formatting, and so forth you are going to want to negotiate a full post-edit.

Saving Time and Money on Post-editing

Post-editing takes time and time costs money. If you want to get the most for your money, there are several things you can do to speed up the post-editing process.

  • Clean source text. The number one way you can speed up the process is by having a clean, well-written source text. When words are used consistently, terms are specific, the format is not overly compressed, and the information is culturally sensitive, the number of edits is decreased dramatically.
  • Translation Style Guide. When a translation style guide is used, the translators are able to use the template to speed up the translation process.
  • Term extraction. When key terms are identified up front and termbases and translation memory databases are updated for the project and language prior to the start of translation, the amount of post-editing required is significantly minimized.

The degree of professionalism and accuracy varies greatly from project to project. For work that involves academic, medical, legal, or contractual elements, there is no substitute for a regular human translation. However, if you are going to opt for a machine translation service, ensure you negotiate the proper level of post-editing required based upon the clientele that will be reading your work.

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