There are two ways that a translation might be bad: faithfulness to the original and fluency in the target language.
As you suppose, it is easy to detect flaws in fluency in the target language because they are apparent to anyone fluent in the target language. However, the only way to tell if a translation is not faithful to the original is to know both languages. In cases that you don’t, you have to trust the professionalism and skill of the translator. If you don’t know who the translator is or what his or her credentials are, then you have reason to be doubtful.
Here are some of the characteristics that you should look out when dealing with translation:
The first criterion is rather obvious—it has to be accurate. Examples of where this often fails are mis-translations, missing sentences and bad grammar. This point accentuates the need to use translators with a thorough knowledge of both languages, not merely two years of a high school language. Mis-translations and missing words or sentences can have devastating consequences. Additionally, if a translation is fraught with bad grammar or spelling errors, the reader tends to lose confidence in not only the document, but also the company that produced it.
Clarity is another important factor. A translation has to be easily comprehensible and well written, regardless of how poor the original document may be. Good translations commonly read much better than do the originals. Many writers tend to write in rather long and complicated sentences; this is especially true in legal documents. However, a translation should strive to present all the information and nuance of the source text in a clear and uncluttered fashion whenever possible
Naturalness of the translation is the key factor in helping to prevent a translation from sounding like one. Typically, or at least at my company, after a translation has been proofread for accuracy and completeness, an editor will go through the document and make sure that it reads smoothly and sounds as if it were originally written in the target language.
An easily overlooked component of a good translation is mirroring the mood of the author. In general texts, there may not be a definitive tone, but in editorial and literary documents there always is a clear attitude of the author. For a translation to convey the same feeling to the reader, it must use words and expressions which can transmit a similar spirit. Failure to express this accurately can easily mislead the reader as to the writer’s true feelings and attitudes.
Next, a translation needs to be culturally appropriate for the target audience. References to religious figures, sports or country–specific items may confuse or offend the reader. Such references either need to be excluded in the source document before translation begins, or be culturally re-adapted into the target language.
Lastly, the audience needs to be taken into consideration. Sometimes this is a broad group of people, but more often, it is a narrow, targeted audience. A text written for a group of scientists needs to be translated at a much higher reading level than would consent forms for newly arrived immigrants. Moreover, if a document is destined for a certain country, it is usually best that the translation be performed by a native translator of that country to ensure that only terms and expressions of that country are used. Metric conversions and spelling changes may need to be made to ensure that the translation is acceptable in the given country.
When ordering for a translation service, you should be able to take note of the following:
Producing a good translation takes time, so when ordering a translation, make sure you allow reasonable time for a good job to be done. A good rule of thumb is that a translator can produce up to 1,500 to 2,500 words per working day of text. An editor can, on average, check work at a rate of 7,000 words per day. More time should be allowed for highly technical or complex texts.
Keep the language as clear and concise as possible. In texts to be translated, it helps to avoid long sentences with strings of sub-clauses. These can cause structural difficulties, especially when translating into languages such as Chinese and Japanese.
A translator should be able to think internationally from the start, and avoid culture-specific clichés or images that mean little outside of the country. By simplifying the writing style and avoiding local idioms or colloquialisms, a translator will make the task of translation easier for the translator and reduce the chance of misunderstandings within your markets.
If possible, finalize the text before starting. Revising the source text during a translation can lead to delays and cost increases, particularly when dealing with multiple-language projects and projects requiring complex layout.
The more the translator and editor know about your intended message and target audience, the better. Always tell your translation provider what your text is for, who will be reading it and where the target audience is located. This enables the translator to prepare a foreign-language version which best suits the intended audience and the type of communication. Whether the translation is for a brochure, website, speech, video or product manual will influence the style of translation needed.
Any supporting information about your product or service, promotional support and your target customers can be very helpful to the translation team, and you should have an appropriate person available to answer any context or technical queries that the translators and editors may have in relation to your text.
In-market reviews by a suitably qualified person can be a good idea, with well-run reviews often enhancing the translation process. This can be a way of getting more involvement from distributors and agents as well. Poorly managed reviews, however, can easily have a negative effect, and it is important to remember that language can be very subjective and open to wide differences in opinion. For this reason, it’s helpful to discuss any potential review with your translation provider so that they can give you advice, and proposed review changes should ideally be discussed with your provider before they are implemented.
Sources and references:
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