What should be the translation? High-quality, for sure, adequate, accurate, corresponding to the original…

Corresponding to the original? If you dig deeper, you will find that conformity with the original is not always the criterion of a good-quality translation. Sometimes to translate close to the original means to hopelessly ruin both the text and your reputation. After receiving a translation, the client often does not realize how much effort the translator has put into adaptation of the text to all possible requirements: vocabulary, grammar, stylistics, speech culture, and so on.

  1. The top-rated are illiterate texts composed by ignorant people. They are simply funny and quite easy (though not always) to grasp and skillfully paraphrase in a foreign or native language. Again, a certain conflict arises: to convey the content of the text, paraphrasing it and thereby making it more literate and readable, or to convey the spirit of the original? However, all the qualification of the translator is not enough to convey the text of an uneducated person in a foreign language. Therefore, usually translations of this type do not correspond to the original in their form, but only render the content in a more elegant way. Therefore, the reader gets the wrong impression about the author of the text.
  2. The texts that appear normal at first glance, but the author has become too involved in the creative process, forgetting the initial thought. The language and thoughts of the author are confused and phrases are so overloaded that the meaning is lost. The context of such texts is so difficult to understand that it is often necessary to ask the author about the exact meaning put in one or another statement.
  3. Google Translate and the like. Sometimes it is possible to make small edits to such “original” and then translate it. Still, there is no limit to human ingenuity. There have been several cases when we have received large-volume technical instructions, which were not original texts, but made with the help of machine “intelligence”. Unfortunately, it is difficult to recognize such a text at first glance. Thus, the translators began to understand what was the matter only after the translation of the first pages, which were of a general content and therefore looked poorly and vaguely translated. But when it came to the main text of the instruction, it became clear that no one read and edited this “translation” at all. All possible errors – grammatical, lexical, stylistic – hindered not only the process of translation, but also the understanding of the text, which itself was burdened with technical terminology. The unity of translation of terms, which is one of the main features of high-quality translation of technical texts, was also absent. The process of translation of such text lasted three times longer than usual.

How to deal with it? It does not fall within our competence to increase the level of culture and literacy of others or to make it so that only original texts are submitted for translation. We can only reserve the right to refuse to work with the texts that are clearly unsuitable for translation.

P.S. The translator has experimentally discovered that the originals of English instructions we received from our clients for translation were written in Chinese. Therefore, in addition to her own imagination, she had to use Chinese dictionaries, read between the lines and especially carefully study the diagrams and drawings of the device, the instructions to which she was translating.

The author of the article – Olha Iovenko, translation agency manager, translator, editor