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Who Needs The Natives II: Advertising copy
Thread poster: xxxIanW
xxxIanW
Local time: 18:53
German to English
+ ...
Oct 10, 2005

Over a year ago, I posted a thread called “English: Who Needs the Natives?” – http://www.proz.com/post/146849#146849 – to voice my annoyance at the unwillingness of many non-native speakers of English to accept the opinions of native speakers. A recent incident has prompted me to bring up a related topic here.

A feature of the German-English pairing is that quite a few German native speakers translate into English. I think it is fair to say that some of them write excellent English and others write excruciatingly bad English and rely on KudoZ assistance to pull them through. (There are even some cases of German-English translations being taken on by people who are neither native speakers of the source nor of the target language, but I’m not going to waste any virtual ink on that one.)

A few days ago, a German colleague on the site – a regular contributor with an excellent command of English – posted a phrase from an advertising text she was translating from German into English and then asked how ‘free’ translators are allowed to be with such texts. I offered the rather grumpy opinion that, if the customer had had any understanding of or interest in such matters, he/she would have not given the job to a non-native in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, my colleague was rather offended by this and saw it as questioning her ability to translate such texts. I hadn’t meant this as a personal attack on her, but agreed that it did come across that way, apologised and got a moderator to remove the offending comments. She also pointed out quite correctly that a KudoZ question was not the right place to express such opinions. Which is why I am bringing them up here.

I do a lot of work in the field of advertising, where creativity, copywriting skills and a real feel for the language are essential. (Incidentally, this is not a claim to superiority, it just happens to be where my strengths lie – by contrast, if I were to translate technical specifications for an aeroplane, I’m quite sure that it would never stay in the air.) And having been exposed to “Germlish” or “Denglish” on pretty much a daily basis, I feel very strongly about non-natives translating advertising copy. If the instructions to my toaster are written in slightly weird English, it doesn’t bother me too much, but seeing a lavish advertising brochure written in polished German alongside BSE (Bad Simple English – thanks Robin!) is another story altogether.

Honestly, how many German, Russian or Chinese translators have ever read any advertising copy which has either been written or translated by non-native speakers of their language. Very, very few, I would imagine. I’m not necessarily talking about the bowel-liquefyingly awful use of the language that one sees from time to time, but rather the kind of copy translated by a non-native with a good technical grasp of the language. The kind of copy which reads as being a little foreign, a little lukewarm and which fails to ‘hit the spot’ entirely. In short: the kind of English that would get you fired after one day at an English-speaking ad agency/department.

This leads me to believe that this may be why speakers of other languages actually have difficulties understanding that their English might not “sound completely right”. That an advertising text translated by a German that sounds perfectly fine to another non-native might sound very mediocre to an English native speaker. The colleague in question, who is based in the USA, claimed to write better English than the average American, and that may well be the case – but being able to write better than the average person is simply not enough, even if you are writing in a language which is not your own. To be a translator, you need to have an extremely good command of your own native language and to be able to write as well as any journalist or academic in that language. And although I have met non-natives who write extraordinarily good formal English, I’ve never met one who can produce a sparkling piece of advertising copy. And that, in a nutshell, is my point.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:53
German to English
+ ...
Who Needs The Natives II: Advertising copy Oct 10, 2005

Ian Winick wrote:

but being able to write better than the average person is simply not enough


Well said, Ian. Translators are professional writers and should therefore be able to write to professional standard. After all, who would go to a doctor, lawyer or plumber who was as good at medicine, law or pluming as "the average person"? This is not a swipe at "non-natives" (I don't like the expression, hence the quotes - in my view, everyone's a native, in their own language); most natives don't make the grade, either.

Advertising copy is even more difficult. Good advertising copywriters are a very small minority indeed, and if you can't write good advertising copy, I fail to see how you can possibly translate it.

Having said that, I'm not sure that this is the best place to vent your frustration. What we need is better customer education. In other words, we need to market ourselves better.

Marc


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:53
Finnish to English
Wholeheartedly agree Oct 10, 2005

It is great for us that English is the world language. It is awful that our language is abused so much through arrogance.

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tectranslate ITS GmbH
Local time: 18:53
German
+ ...
I agree entirely... Oct 10, 2005

...although it's a fight against windmills, in my view.
I have lots of German customers who let us translate most of their stuff EXCEPT for their English marketing materials.

I think it should be common sense that the marketing stuff in particular should be written and polished by native speakers but obviously it isn't.


Benjamin


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Mats Wiman  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 18:53
Member (2000)
German to Swedish
+ ...

MODERATOR
Agree!! Oct 10, 2005

Dear Ian,

For once we agree completely.

I checked our site's "Professional Practices for Language Service Providers" (http://www.proz.com/?sp=info/&ssp=intro&sssp=guidelines)

and

to be noted there is one line,
"accept only assignments that they have the knowledge, resources and time to do well" which is very general but covers what you are talking about.

Now I would strongly suggest that we (the site) should list a number of more specific caveats when it comes to what a translator should and shouldn't do.

On the top of that list I would suggest:

1. Never translate advertising and sales material copy into a language which is not your native language

Well done!

Mats


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:53
German to English
It's target language competence that counts Oct 10, 2005

Couldn't agree more, Ian, and I must say it's pretty depressing to have to repeat this year in, year out (it was a major topic on FLEFO back in the early 1990s, too).

The golden rule has to be: If you're not a native speaker of English, any translation you do into English has to be absolutely indistinguishable from a translation produced by an extremely well-educated native speaker who's an expert in that field.

It doesn't really matter if it's ad copy or a legal text, the same principle applies.

The argument that a particular non-native may be better than the average native speaker doesn't cut any ice at all. *All* translators have to be in the top 2% or so of the target language community when it comes to language skills. The average is, by its very nature, mediocre.

Maybe we ought to introduce a new quality standard: Translated by an Expert Native Speaker. And maybe we should stop being so damn polite about the non-natives' self-proclaimed abilities.

Grumble, grumble, harrumph.

Robin


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 19:53
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Only that native copy-writers do not always write well Oct 10, 2005

Many translators write better German or Finnish than native copy-writers. This profession seems to have lost the ability to distinguish between their native language and Denglish or Finglish. Most ads are just awful by any standards.
By the way often we see advertisements where the writer tries to give the impression, that the text is written by a non-native. The sometimes not so slight mistakes draw the attention of the audience better than a totally "faultless" text.

Otherwise I agree with you, but what to do when the customer ?. It's his choice. Even when I translate ads into my native German I usually give the advice: Let some German specialist have a look at it, by all means if you really want to sell that product in the target market. What more can I do?

Regards
Heinrich


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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:53
German to French
+ ...
Translating into non-native language Oct 10, 2005

RobinB wrote:

Maybe we ought to introduce a new quality standard: Translated by an Expert Native Speaker. And maybe we should stop being so damn polite about the non-natives' self-proclaimed abilities.

Grumble, grumble, harrumph.

Robin


...Translated by an expert native speaker who has the abilities to understand the source text..


I don't like being fired because I translate here and now between two foreign languages (as for my language abilities I have been living for 3 years in London, graduated there and now I have been living for more than 6 years in german speaking countries).
I just see the fact that some of the english speakers complaining here have been below the point when it came to translate a german text into english, it may have been perfectly written, but it was not actually what had been said in the source document.

I think we should stop at shouting each other and try to make the best of our abilities to give the best copy to our clients.

I am sure that if and you had to translate some document with the typical austrian slang, you may shout at me because it is for me between two foreign languages but you will sometime end up needing me because I am the one who is actually understanding what had been said, even if I mispell some words, have had the education to put it in english (and I do not translate marketing material but check the translations I get from english native translators).

[Edited at 2005-10-10 10:55]

[Edited at 2005-10-10 11:05]

[Edited at 2005-10-10 11:33]


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Sara Freitas
France
Local time: 18:53
French to English
Exactly, but... Oct 10, 2005

Yolande Haneder wrote:

I am sure that if and you had to translate some document with the typical austrian slang, you may shout at me because it is for me between two foreign languages but you will sometime end up needing me because I am the one who is actually understanding what had been said, even if I mispell some words, have had the education to put it in english (and I do not translate marketing material but check the translations I get from english native translators).

[Edited at 2005-10-10 10:55]

[Edited at 2005-10-10 11:05]

[Edited at 2005-10-10 11:07]


IMO, a good translator who is a native speaker of the target language knows enough to recognize when they *don't* know (an obvious cultural reference they know they are not grasping the nuances of, a play on words, etc.). In such cases they use their personal networks for help (I have a translator friend in the US who contacts me with such questions as he knows I live in the source language country and can help as I am up on current events, media, general culture. He also has a network of native French speakers who can help).

I don't see anything wrong with people translating into their second language as long as they work in tandem with a proofer who is a native speaker of the target language.

Translators who work into their second/third/etc. language fully confident that they are providing work that is up to scratch make me a bit wary, personally.

Regards,

Sara


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xxxIanW
Local time: 18:53
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@ Yolande Oct 10, 2005

Yolande Haneder wrote:
I think we should stop at shouting each other and try to make the best of our abilities to give the best copy to our clients.


I agree about "giving the best copy to our clients", but I think that keeping our mouths shut about the whole matter is not the right way to go about it.

Yolande Haneder wrote:
I am sure that if and you had to translate some document with the typical austrian slang, you may shout at me because it is for me between two foreign languages but you will sometime end up needing me because I am the one who is actually understanding what had been said, even if I mispell some words, have had the education to put it in english (and I do not translate marketing material but check the translations I get from english native translators).



In this case, I would get a native English speaker resident in Austria to do this translation (I know several already), or do it myself and ask my native Austrian colleagues any questions I might have about the slang usage. I would certainly not give it to - as you describe yourself on your ProZ page - "A french in Austria"

Best regards


Ian


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Yolande Haneder  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:53
German to French
+ ...
English native in Austria Oct 10, 2005

Ian Winick wrote:

In this case, I would get a native English speaker resident in Austria to do this translation (I know several already), or do it myself and ask my native Austrian colleagues any questions I might have about the slang usage. I would certainly not give it to - as you describe yourself on your ProZ page - "A french in Austria"



And I am very happy of it. Translating in english give me twice the hassle for half the credit. I do not need to go into that.

I wish you luck with your english native in Austria.

The last one I gave the order let me down on a german word she obviously did not understand and answered to me as why she would leave the word in german many hours later as she was sure that I would have send the document back. She left me alone correcting the term. So far I had luck. The client of my last kudoz german to english question was very happy with the translation and said he will send me more jobs (that I will keep for another english native speaker).


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Amy Williams  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:53
Italian to English
+ ...
Who Needs The Natives II Oct 10, 2005

Yolande Haneder wrote:

I just see the fact that some of the english speakers complaining here have been below the point when it came to translate a german text into english, it may have been perfectly written, but it was not actually what had been said in the source document.

I am the one who is actually understanding what had been said, even if I mispell some words, have had the education to put it in english


It works both ways, though. What's the point in understanding the source if the target is non-fluent or even unintelligible?


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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:53
German to English
Perfectly written? Oct 10, 2005

Yolande Haneder wrote: it may have been perfectly written, but it was not actually what had been said in the source document.


I don't think I've ever seen an English translation by a non-native speaker that was "perfectly written" in the first place; it's difficult enough finding native speakers of English who can do that. But the "reads perfectly in English, it's just not what the original says" type of extremely dangerous translation is, I think, very much the province of people who are educated native speakers of English, but just don't have sufficient expertise in the source language and/or subject area. And there are plenty of them around, believe me.

Native speaker competence isn't enough - you need the subject area expertise as well.

I am sure that if and you had to translate some document with the typical austrian slang


If by slang, you mean the demotic, I wouldn't translate such a document in the first place, because apart from anything else, I don't "have to". I'm not sure I'd even attempt a translation of the local dialect where I live (Rhoihess). But if you mean a subject area document that contains Austrianisms rather than standard German, I do that frequently. Same goes for Swiss German. And why not? I'm not quite sure if I see your point..


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xxxFrancis Lee
Local time: 18:53
German to English
+ ...
unintelligible English Oct 10, 2005

[quote]Yolande Haneder wrote:

I don't like being fired because I translate here and now between two foreign languages (as for my language abilities I have been living for 3 years in London, graduated there and now I have been living for more than 6 years in german speaking countries).

a)So Yolande has "been living for 3 years in London" but at the same time has "been living for more than 6 years in german speaking countries"
This implies that you CURRENTLY live in London AND in Austria/Germany. An elementary grammatical mistake, there.
b) Indeed, the above quote and the rest of your comments (not to mention your profile page!) make it quite clear that you in are no position whatsoever to translate into English (which you have evidently done in the past)
c) Do you think that spending three years in England and passing a degree there qualify you as a native-speaker/ a competent writer of English copy?
d) You refer to your disappointment with English native-speaker colleagues from your experience. There are indeed many sub-standard translators out there, but this merely shows that you do not have the right connections.

I think many of us will be relieved to see that you intend to "keep (future jobs) for another English native speaker" (assuming "another" here means not the colleague you have in the past used and not to yourself)


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 17:53
Dutch to English
+ ...
There isn't one other than to justify the posting in the first place. Oct 10, 2005

RobinB wrote:

I'm not quite sure if I see your point..





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