Translation Quality: General Rules

Qualitative Translation

Translations come in many different forms, styles, and qualities as there are individuals who require them. With the advances in online translation programs, anybody with an internet connection can set up a “translation service”. A well-crafted web page and a few quality write-ups, and even a person who has no experience can offer the same services as a long-established and reputable establishment.

Granted, the services they will be providing are not likely to meet your needs. What do you look for to ensure you will be receiving quality translation services? What questions do you need to ask?

Defining Quality Translation

It is often said that quality is a concept that is hard to describe. It is the lack of errors or the overall feeling you get from a finished product? Is quality tangible or more of an ethereal concept? In translation, quality is a little easier to define than it is for many other products or services.

With translations, the ultimate qualifier of quality is this question: does the translated document read like it was written by a native of the target language with an expertise in the specific field being translated, and thus accurately and completely representing the intent of the source document information?

There are levels of quality in our everyday life. Documents have typographical errors, there are mistakes in advertisements, and people make erroneous claims. People of the same language group hire writers, marketers, advertisers, and the like to create content for them, and there are errors.

Mistakes are not just part of the world of translation, they are part of life in general. However, just as businesses in a given country choose their writing, marketing, or advertising agency carefully, you should put the same due diligence into selecting your translation service.

A law firm that deals in million dollar business contracts is not likely to hire out the transcription of their legal texts to the lowest bidder. The preparation of patent applications does not go to the cheapest freelancer on the internet, and book publishers are not taking just any unedited script from unknown writers.

Yet, often these same companies, when looking to have their materials used overseas, will not spend the same time or effort selecting a translation service or demand the same quality in their translations.

Of course, it only takes one bad experience before they learn their lesson, and many of these lessons can be found with a Google search for “famous translation mistakes”. What can you do to not repeat their errors?

Demand Field-specific Translators

Many translation services run your documents through a machine translator and have a bilingual speaker give it a quick once over. While this may work for some documents, if you are translating a technical manual or a document in a specialized field, this is a recipe for disaster.

Some fields that require translators with field-specific knowledge include genetics, pharmacology, molecular biology, medical science, engineering, and education. Your translator should not just have knowledge of the field but a mastery of it.

For example, they might have a doctorate in the field, work in the field, be conducting research, or even be retired from that particular career field.

Clarify the Translation Culture

A document that is technically correct can still be entirely wrong. Remember, it is the message that is important not the words. Ensure that your translator has a complete understanding of the target culture or you may end up with a document that uses all the right words and presents the entirely wrong message.

The Internet if filled with humorous stories of businesses whose slogans, products, or even business names got lost in translation. Make sure your translator is able to catch these faux pas before your documents get published.

Translation Legality

A business document that does not hold up in court does not do you any good. If you are translating documents of a legal nature, make sure your translator has knowledge of the target culture’s legal system and current legal precedents. If you use the wrong form, wrong format, or wrong words, your documents may be invalidated. This is especially important when cultures have legal systems that are quite different from one another, such as those in American, China, and the Middle East.

Translation Post-editing

We are all a bit nearsighted when it comes to our own writing or translating. We know what the document is supposed to say, so when we read it, that is what we see. It takes a team to successfully translate a document with complete accuracy.

Ensure your translation service has a post-editing staff that possesses a native-level language expertise along with subject matter and cultural fluency. If your documents are going to represent you and your business, demand that their translation is perfect.

Quality translation is not impossible to achieve, but you are not going to get it from just anybody. Take the time to check around and insist on translators who meet the minimum standards listed above. Once again, you don’t have to look very hard to find examples of those who did not do this and paid dearly for their mistakes. If you don’t look at translation as a casual accessory, but an essential part of your business plan, it will pay off with the highest of rewards.

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

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