Yesterday I saw a tweet from Robert Etches, CIO at TextMinded Denmark, Chairman of GALA, and a member of the Advisory Board of Translators without Borders.
#TranslatingEurope 99.99% of all digitised content is available in only one language. Everyone could be a translator and we couldn´t cope.
— Robert Etches (@robertetches) 27 октября 2016 г.
I just had to react:
I understand what is meant, but I still can’t help thinking that not *everyone* can be a translator, at least a good one https://t.co/1yAQvmvs81
— Elena Tereshchenkova (@etereshchenkova) 27 октября 2016 г.
And here’s the reply I got:
You are so right, Elena. But they don´t all have to be good – as long as they help the world communicate. https://t.co/8q6MPev5sa
— Robert Etches (@robertetches) 28 октября 2016 г.
This tweet got me thinking about my attitude to translators and translations that are ‘not good’. I see several problems here.
The first one is that bad translations often lead to miscommunication.
Mistranslated information loses all its value and can become dangerous.
The consequences may range from a serious disability for an 18-year old who was not administered proper treatment due to the absence of a professional interpreter, to the death of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s an opinion that Truman’s decision to drop the bombs was influenced by the mistranslation of Japanese government response to the terms of its surrender proposed by the Allied leaders.
Of course, bad translation doesn’t always have tragic consequences, but it often mangles the message thus rendering the act of translation itself pointless. It hinders communication rather than helping it.
Another problem with bad translation is that even if it conveys the message of the source text correctly it degrades the overall level of the content. People get used to reading crappy texts riddled with typos, errors and strange linguistic constructions that leave the reader struggling to understand what the writer was getting at.
Inarticulate writing becomes the new norm for some people. And I can’t help wondering whether we really need to create more low-quality content in a world of constant information overload.
But the second problem wouldn’t really bother me that much. After all, we’re all free to share the information with the people around us and if you have language skills why not use them to make some texts available to those who wouldn’t be able to read them otherwise, right?
Sure! As long as there is no money involved in this equation.
It’s ok to give advice on healthy eating based on my personal experience to a friend. But it’s not ok to charge money for nutritional consultations if you don’t have the necessary qualifications.
It’s ok to share my experience of fostering new-born kittens on social media. But it’s not ok to charge money for veterinary advice if you’re not a veterinarian.
It’s ok to translate for your personal purposes or for pleasure. But it’s not ok to charge money for a sub-par product. And it’s even more not ok to use the services of amateurs to make money like many start-ups do.
There’s a lot of talk about the ‘uberization’ of different industries. However, the translation industry is different and there are at least two reasons for that.
1. It’s not enough to know two languages to be a translator.
Contrary to what many people think, knowing two or more languages or even being bilingual is not enough to provide translations of professional quality. Translation is a skill that requires practice. Completing one-off translation jobs on your mobile device won’t let you master that skill.
You’ll also need specialist knowledge to translate some texts. This is why professional translators pay attention to their CPD (Continuos Professional Development).
2. Translation doesn’t scale well.
Many crowdsourcing translation platforms advertise high speed as one of their competitive advantages.
They often achieve this high speed by splitting the text between multiple translators, which inevitably affects the quality of the final product. Different people have different writing styles and you should keep in mind the absence of quality assurance or editors on such platforms.
Besides, there are some types of translation, like transcreation, that simply require more time. It’s naive to expect that a slogan that took a team of creatives and several hours, days or weeks of brainstorming can be translated in a few minutes, even if it’s just a couple of words.
Even in our fast-paced times quality often trumps speed. So you should think carefully when choosing a translation provider.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for communication and building bridges between cultures. But I believe that those bridges should be solid. They should be safe for the people to use them. Otherwise, they can bring more harm than good.