The Case For Translation Consistency

Translation Consistency

Have you ever noticed how movie producers will take liberties with film sequels and remakes? One director may film Batman as dark and brooding while another shoots him as a suave and debonaire lady’s man.

Different actors also make a difference. Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all played James Bond. Each time, Bond was a slightly different character.

While there may be some things that get “lost in translation” from film to film, imagine if it was not just the nuances that were different, but the names or positions.

Consider a James Bond series where the main character’s name changed each time. Or, perhaps Bond didn’t just work for MI6, but worked for a different agency in each installment. This could get truly confusing. Even so, this is exactly what happens during the translation of many technical manuals and guides.

Granted, it is probably not intended that way, and in the source language the discrepancies might be virtually unnoticeable. Yet, when translated, if the discrepancies are not caught and fixed, the audience could be left confused and frustrated.

Think about how many words you know for an automobile. You could say car, truck, van, ride, Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, auto, automobile, vehicle, SUV, and so forth.

If you were writing a technical guide for one of these vehicles, however, you would want to choose one term and stick with it throughout the text, and in future manuals, guides, or texts you would want to remain consistent. While these words may be virtually interchangeable in English, they are not in every language, and some of them might not even exist in your target language. In this case, your translator would have to decide how to best translate the word for you. They might choose wrong.

Issues that Complicate Translation Consistency

It is not just the inconsistent use of terminology within a text or text series that creates ambiguity. There are other factors that may come into play as well. Consider:

  • You use multiple translators for your projects. This is much the same as having different Batman directors, except this time one translator chooses “voiture” for car, while the next sticks with “car” and the third goes with “un camion” for truck. Each of these is going to put a different picture into the head of the reader. This may not seem important in this instance, but if you are referencing a contract and the judge says, “I’m sorry, but you are talking about a car, this contract is for a truck”, suddenly things get interesting. Even worse, a mistake on a medical device, a formula, or a recipe could prove disastrous.
  • Your translation agency employs several different translators to work on your project. Most agencies will assign several people to work on large projects, and not each translator may use the exact same terminology when translating concepts.

Ways to Avoid Textual Inconsistency

There are several ways to improve the consistency of your terminology within your text and text series, should you have more than one document translated within the same subject.

  • Run an electronic concordance. A concordance will list all the words in your document along with the number of times they are used and the context in which they are used. You can quickly see if you are using multiple terms for the same concept.

If you do not have this software, have your translator run it prior to the start of translation so you can work through any inconsistencies and agree on translations before the text enters into the translation process.

  • Use termbases and translation memory. A termbase is basically a glossary of terms and their target language translations. A termbase goes beyond lexemes to include phrases and the way you want them to be translated. If your termbase and translation memory is updated prior to the start of translation, especially when used in conjunction with a concordance, then multiple translators will be able to arrive at the same translation regardless of the part of the text they are translating.

Even if the termbase and translation memory are not completed prior to the start of translation, if it is updated along the way by each translator working on the project, consistency may be maintained. The caveat is that each translator must have access to the database, which may limit the ability to use freelancers.

There are times when words and names change during translation. “Sam I Am” may become “Juan Ramon” (because Ramon rhymes with jambon, Spanish for ‘ham’ in Green Eggs and Ham).

In the “Harry Potter” series, Hagrid’s dog, Fang, is named Thor and Rowena Ravenclaw is known as Cosetta Corvonero (black raven) in the Italian translation of the Harry Potter books. Yet, as long as the translations stay consistent there will not be confusion.

What causes confusion is the lack of lexical consistency within a document or series of documents. With a little time, effort, and communication with your translator, perhaps the use of a termbase and translation memory, you can ensure that these issues will not be present in your work.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

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