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Quality of the original texts
Thread poster: Ritu Bhanot

Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:18
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
+ ...
May 31, 2008

Recently, I've had quite a few originals with questionable quality.

1. Typos and sometimes the same typo several times in the text: maybe the writer thought that it was the correct form

2. Words in another language: If you don't know the language in question, how do you translate those? I've had italian words in a French text... and I don't know any italian!!! And it's not as if the French equivalent did not exist. Thank god for internet. It was a great help, but... And the latest one is a probable latin word that "may" be a french typo!!!

3. Original with grammatical errors: And if you are translating towards Hindi, this sort of grammatical error (in French) can mean several different things.

4. Excellent originals that do not render themselves well for translation (if at all): Last week I translated a newsletter (one of my regular direct clients). Excellent original. But believe me it was almost impossible to state the same thing in Hindi. In fact, I work in coordination with another technical person (who is also involved in Translations and knows the intricacies of both languages) in the organisation and he agrees that there are things that can't be translated. Words exist. But it's the way the text has been written.

So how does one ensure quality? I've been asking too many questions recently.

I'm thinking of asking twice my usual price for such originals!!! At least, then I could justify the time spent on researching.

It is not a question. It is a statement of facts. And I am really upset with the quality of originals... it makes my work quite difficult. And giving good quality translation is more of a challenge.

When will people realize that a good original is important for a good translation? We talk about using native-speakers for translations, what about using educated native-speakers who are also good writers (even if I am native speaker of a language, it does not mean that I am also a good writer) for writing originals?


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 17:18
English to German
+ ...
try the french forums... May 31, 2008

Hi! Ritu, when seeking solutions in your language pair, why do you not post in the french forum, may be you will find adequate solutions there. Brandis

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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:18
German to English
+ ...
Simple solutions? May 31, 2008

Hi Rita,

1. Demand (or rather ask) to see the source prior to accepting the job.

2. Consider structuring your rates to reflect the difficulty of the source text. Doubling them would probably be somewhat 'over the top'.

For example in German there are also sometimes constructions that have to be severely 'circumlocuted' in order to render them comprehensible/readable.

To quote a moderator making a (very good) presentation at a recent Powwow:
"Shit in = shit out". A fact of life that we have to live with - or rather deal with.

Bonne chance
Chris


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 16:18
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Cakes from turds May 31, 2008

One of our Dutch colleagues recently quoted what he said was a Dutch proverb - "you can't bake a cake from a turd". That actually describes many source texts. What he failed to mention, however, was that you can put frosting and decorations on the turd and make it *look* like a delicious cake, which is what some very talented translators do to build their reputations

Seriously, though, mistakes and other problems in the source text are part of the territory. Chris is right - ALWAYS look at the text before you bid. Garbage will cost more or take longer. It obviously isn't reasonable to expect you to identify all potential problems in a large text before you begin work, but I assume you maintain a table of questions/problems and send it to the customer periodically for clarification. If the deadline doesn't allow time for clarification, submit the list anyway, and the issues can be sorted out afterward. At least you will have done your duty by documenting them. More cannot be reasonably expected.

I used to spend enormous amounts of time researching obscure acronyms, for example. Aside from the fact that this irritated me, I found over the years that even with the best research and guessing the intended meaning was very often different. Now I tend to rely on more frequent question cycles, and I save time while the client also has the opportunity to share additional information that may improve the quality of the translation in parts that were not queried. Some agency PMs are lazy about facilitating this communication, but the good ones are valuable allies here, and it gives them an opportunity to show the end client that they are "on top of things".


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
Think of it this way Jun 1, 2008

If you have a poorly written original, then as a translator surely you can and will improve on it in your translation.

Then your translation actually turns out to be a better than the original, so there you are, it's your chance to shine!

Of course like Kevin says, "you can't bake a cake from a turd", but you can at least make it smell a little better.


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Kaiya J. Diannen  Identity Verified
Australia
Member (2008)
German to English
But is it our job... Jun 1, 2008

Henry Hinds wrote:

If you have a poorly written original, then as a translator surely you can and will improve on it in your translation.


While I agree that I despise putting out a translation that has flaws and lacks flow (etc. etc.), I sometimes have to wonder how much of our job is actually to correct and improve?

The ethics standards promulgated by the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters in Australia seems to stress that we are NOT to change anything(!) and that our job as translators (but I suspect, mostly for interpreters - which isn't clear in the materials) is to translate exactly what is provided to us, nothing more and nothing less.

I have my own issues with NAATI, which I won't go into here, but I wonder if organizations such as this one have any idea of the reality of working situations?

And if the real working situation is so far off from the ethics we are told to work by, what has happened?

It seems to me we have talked ourselves into wearing two hats (translator and editor) while only getting paid for one job.

Of course it irks me to render a translation that contains the same "flaws" as an original (which occasionally has to be done due to simple lack of clarifying information) - and if I think I am allowed to "improve" (or am requested to do so), I will, within the limits of what is clearly understood.

But it also annoys me that I may be viewed - but not paid - as the ghost writer that will "make everything ok again" without this actually being acknowledged both in word and payment.


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Dinny  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 18:18
Italian to Danish
+ ...
Awful source text Jun 1, 2008

I DO take a look at the source text before accepting a job, the problem is that I do never actually read it ALL. In bigger projects I would loose the job even before giving a rate because it would take a lot of time to read through it all.

So, I have a quick look, check what it is about, read a little at the start of the document and then accept the job.

Lately I had this 30,000 words technical manual to translate. English to Danish. Originally the text had been in Italian and it was then translated into English. I could not get the Italian original for some reason.

In the beginning it went alright, there would be a "curious" word here and there with no meaning and I would ask the client for an explanation. But as the job went on I could actually FEEL how the IT/EN translator had given up on the job. He/she had no clue whatsoever as how to translate the technical stuff and the text was floaded with purely invented word or meaningless text. A small example: "To oil the surfaces of joining after having cleaned them if the is foreseen I don't use any accessory for long periods."

But the first few pages were quite acceptable!

I had to tell the client that I would do my best in "guessing" what the previous translator had in mind but that I would not accept any complaints about quality issues after delivery of the EN/DA translation.

I don t see how I could have avoided this, I simply cannot read through 30,000 words before accepting a job and giving my rate.

Dinny


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:18
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Entirely agree Jun 1, 2008

Henry Hinds wrote:
If you have a poorly written original, then as a translator surely you can and will improve on it in your translation.

Then your translation actually turns out to be a better than the original, so there you are, it's your chance to shine!


Absolutely. It's a good chance to point out mistakes to your client, and report them in detail so that they can be taken into account in translations to other languages, and maybe to fix the original text. The result is a win-win situation in which you stand out thanks to your attention to detail.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 16:18
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
I think it depends on the type of translation Jun 1, 2008

Janet Rubin wrote:
The ethics standards promulgated by the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters in Australia seems to stress that we are NOT to change anything(!) and that our job as translators (but I suspect, mostly for interpreters - which isn't clear in the materials) is to translate exactly what is provided to us, nothing more and nothing less.


You're probably right in assuming that this applies mainly to interpreters, though it is equally applicable to certain types of translations, such as patents or contracts. If I see a goofy bit in a user manual where it is obvious what should have been said, I correct the mistake and make a note of it. Or if something in a marketing translation is so idiotic that it would work against the customer's interest to sell, I make an appropriate adaptation. I inform the customer of these changes and the reasons behind them so that someone doesn't try to "fix" the problem later without understanding why there is a deviation, but on the whole this is the service that is expected, and there's no ethical issue in meeting that expectation. In fact, by fixing defects in a user manual I am probably eliminating legal problems. However, as a legal translator you know the importance of sticking as exactly as possible to the original text, including its flaws. I might restructure things for better comprehension, but no extra information is introduced, and if the author has made an incorrect reference to a diagram, this mistake will be faithfully reproduced in the translation (with a note describing the problem, of course, in case there is an opportunity for the client to do something about it).


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:18
English to Spanish
+ ...
It does depend Jun 1, 2008

Whether or not you make improvements does depend on the type of translation. For instance, I will always make improvements on grant proposals from a client with whom I have already agreed do do it, because they want this material to cause the best possible impression. I will also either make or suggest improvements to just about any client-generated material so both versions can be corrected.

On the other hand, received legal documents and others that are already "written in stone" are left as they are with errors and all, with notes as may be necessary to clarify that there is an error or inconsistency in the original. In that way people also become aware that it was the writer of the original, and not the translator, who was a sloppy writer.

To me it does not appear to be much work to take something that has some defects and turn it into decent writing. However, back-translation is something else! That I will not even touch.


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Joseph Brazauskas
United States
Member (2006)
Latin to English
+ ...
Re: Poor Quality of Source Texts Jun 1, 2008

I work mostly in Latin English and the source texts are often execrable. If the source text is so poor that I must do remedial work on it before it can be translated, I add surcharges for editing and/or copy-editing. But as several have pointed out, one must examine the source text before taking on the job.

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Birthe Omark  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 17:18
Member (2006)
French to Danish
+ ...
Poor writing skills or inconsistency ... Jun 1, 2008

I agree with Henry Hinds, and I am somewhat surprised of the way this thred reveals a tit-for-tat strategy.

If translation were a matter of word for word - then a poor original might also well become a poor translation. This is what happens if you put the text through MT. But we differ from the machine by having the capacity to think and to reason.

Therefore, if the author has poor writing skills, there is no point in repeating them in the translation. And it is much easier to produce a correct sentence than wilfully reproduce an incorrect one. But if the original copy is so poor, that the meaning becomes inconprehensible, then there are two options (1) to try to render the copy or (2) seek clarification from the author/agency.

With otpion (1) it would be only reasonable to point out the problem.

The use of common sense will get us further and win us as translators more respect.

As for checking the text before accepting, this is plainly impossible in many cases, as you only find the problems as you move along. Particularly in the case of large tecnical manuals, where you are often translating a translation, and therefore meet odd expressions, as described by Dinny, and have to go behind the text and use whatever knowledge you have of the syntax of other languages.

Nobody said it has to be easy!


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 18:18
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
my two cents Jun 3, 2008

I think that a translator cannot foresee the problems he/she might face with the source text until the real work starts. Well, it is easy to advice "See the what you confirm" - in many cases the text seems OK from the first glance.

What I usually do:

1) be as much reasonable as possible - some sentences and whole paragraphs might appear as total nonsenses, but if the subject is not complicated (say, this is a manual for a CD player), just put things in translation as to make sense (have in mind that the end user will simply read the target text as such, i.e. the end user for whom your translation will go will not compare it to the source text - he/she will read it "as is").

2) one more solution - to make a "followup" file to cover your back - I mean you do the translation as you understand it and for all those places with unclear meanings, grammar errors in the source, foreign words, etc. etc. prepare a list with explanations like "I understood this place like this and translated like that - if you think this shall be otherwise, or if you have any questions, please let me know".

I think this option is much better than a) to "criticize the source" (why should quality of the source be your problem?), moreover, such crizicism can be understood in a negative way; b) you will not waste your own time piling the client with kilos of questions "What does that mean?", "Can you explain me this sentence?" - you just "suffer" the quality of the source once, and if they really care about the source and think it contained many questionable things, they will send you explanations or even will update/improve the source and all that, actually, shall go for an extra rate. But, in many cases, it happened (at least in my practice) that I sent the source, client confirmed the receipt and that is it. Translation done, your back covered.


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