There’s a lot of myths about translation and translators. Sometimes they seem to contradict each other. In this post I’m going to debunk some of these myths.
1 Anyone who speaks two languages can be a translator
Translation is a skill. That means that you’ve got to spend some time on deliberate practice before you become good at it. It’s also important to have good writing skills in the target language, know the terminology, be able to do research and use CAT-tools. Are you sure that your friend who studied French at the University 10 years ago is a good choice for translating your website?
2 Good translators can translate anything
I don’t know about other countries, but this is something that translation students are actually being taught at Russian universities. Nevertheless, that’s absolutely not true.
It’s easy to see if you look at it this way: would you order some technical writing, a legal contract and a marketing copy in your native language from one and the same person? Probably not, because these types of writing require different skills and background.
To be able to provide high quality translation one should not only know a foreign language, but also feel at ease with the subject matter.
3 Good translators can translate in both directions
Professional translators usually translate into their native language only. My guess is that it’s often because they are (a) perfectionists and (b) know the foreign language on such a high level that they can see their own limitations. There are some exceptions to this rule, but let’s be honest, they are pretty rare.
4 A text that has cost you thousands of dollars and has been crafted by a team of specialists over several weeks can be translated by anyone in a couple of days for the fraction of the cost
More often than not this is what customers think about their marketing copy and I could never understand why. A translator has to take the time to get to know the brand and its style. He has to come up with some engaging content that will speak to the new audience. Sometimes he has to make some changes and work around some metaphors or puns that just don’t work in the target language. This all takes time and requires skills. I’m sounding a little like a broken record here, I know. But this is such an easy concept that so few people outside the translation industry seem to understand!
5 The length of the source text and the translation should be the same
Different languages have different structures. In some languages it takes less words to express the same thought. Also Russian words are normally longer than English. But wait till you see some of German words, like Lebensmittelgeschäft (grocery), for example. You should bear it in mind when you develop the layout for your site, framework for you app or work on DTP.
6 Translation can not provide high quality copy
This one seems to be somewhat contrary to what I said above, but it really isn’t. The key is to find a good translator specializing in the subject matter of your text. I don’t agree with Wayne Bourland, who wrote that translation can not produce a good marketing copy. Translated (or rather transcreated) marketing materials can preserve the brand’s voice while taking into account the differences of the local audience. However, such translation can not be cheap.
7 You can get high quality translation without interacting with the translator
Good translators ask questions. They don’t do it straight away and they won’t bother you with queries if they can find an answer themselves, but it’s always best to be in touch with your translator or project manager, if you work with an agency. Sometimes translators can find errors in the source file. After all there are few people who will read your copy as closely as the person doing the translation.
8 A good translator will instantly get the hang of your company’s preferred terminology and style
It’s surprising, but being a psychic is not part of a translator’s job description. I can make an assumption of what your preferences might be, but there’s no guarantee that my guess would be correct. This is especially true when it comes to terminology. Oh, and one more important tip: it’s always best to provide the glossary and the style guide before the translation process starts.
9 Your in-house specialists always know better what changes should be made to the translation
On the one hand, your staff might know some details that the translator is not aware of. On the other hand when it comes to style, translators are often more qualified than your team. I’ve seen it times and times again when an in-house reviewer made purely preferential changes or even made the text worse from the stylistic point of view. This is another reason why it’s so important to have an opportunity to discuss the translation directly with the person who has done it.
10 Higher price always means higher quality
Unfortunately, higher price does not always guarantee the best quality. In my previous post I wrote about an unpleasant situation when a customer preferred a poorer version of the translation, while it was also the more expensive one.
Buying translation is not easy, because usually you can’t evaluate the quality and have to trust the service provider. I gave some tips on finding a translator at the end of this post. Hopefully, you will find them useful.
Another option is to hire an independent reviewer, who could help you choose the translator for your project.
11 You can’t use the services of freelance translators, if you want a one-stop shop for your multi-lingual translation and some DTP
Many freelance translators offer not only translation, but other services as well. They can do everything themselves, or partner up with other freelancers. I provide editing by a second linguist, keyword research and localization and on-device language testing for Android and iOS mobile apps. I know colleagues, who offer DTP and project management as well. By the way, if that’s you, why don’t you show up in the comments?
If you have a multilingual project working with a big agency seems to be the easiest option, but if you spend some time on research, you might find a team of freelancers who will provide a higher quality and a more personalized approach.
Are there any other myths about translation that you have come across? I’d love to read about them in the comments! And please don’t forget to share this post, if you have found it useful.
Image courtesy of Kaboompics.com