Source text is horrible - what would you do?
Thread poster: Vito Smolej

Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 17:43
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Apr 6, 2008

Moshi, moshi, Houston, me got a problem.

The English text I am supposed to translate is a translation of Japanese, by Japanese, for Japanese (*), in any case for anybody but English. Here's a few jewels:

- When starting a main motor, check the manual handle has removed.
- Always check the sanitary piping because of sometimes leaks out.
- Push the MAIN MOTOR-ON button and hold it operated.
- INCHING During pushing, revolve main motor

Me Tarzan, you English...

I informed the agency that in the end users' best interest their client should get a proofreader for their English translation first. In the mean time I would let my work rest, because I could not force myself to use my imagination while translating.

A quote (not verbatim, but in its intention): "Note that this machine can kill and I would not like to be an accessory to it by providing a BS operating manual."

TiA

Vito

*: the Gettysburg construction just happened, I let it be...

[Edited at 2008-04-06 07:30]


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Damian Harrison
Germany
Local time: 17:43
German to English
Run!!! Apr 6, 2008

I can really sympathize with your position Vito.
I avoid 'technical' translations as a rule - I know nothing about motors, engines, production facilities and so forth, so why pretend? But I have also seen some real humdingers in my field (arts / Humanities). Things get very tricky when you can´t contact the author or translator of a text... that´s when it almost comes down to a combination of 'intuitive guesswork', KudoZ ,and whinging until somebody provides an inspiration. It´s not the most efficient approach but sometimes there is nothing else you can do. The again, fatal accidents are somewhat rarer in the arts...I am sure you are doing the right thing and saving yourself a LOT of hassle.

[Edited at 2008-04-06 08:26]


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Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:43
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Candidate for retranslation, not proofreading Apr 6, 2008

Vito Smolej wrote:

I informed the agency that in the end users' best interest their client should get a proofreader for their English translation first.


Well, as a Japanese-English technical translator my feeling is that this text is a candidate for retranslation from scratch. Proofreading would not help, as it seems there are more serious problems than incorrect prepositions... At least this is what I would say, should a text like this come my way for "proofreading".


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 12:43
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Tell them to save money and use free machine translation Apr 6, 2008

If you are a good translator, and translate gibberish, the outcome should be equivalent nonsense in another language, right? I assume they are not hiring you to write a decent manual from the stuff they gave you.

So it seems that this translation is just for compliance. The product will be exported to some country that require it to include a manual in the local language. For instance, Brazilian law on this matter requires correct, clear, and accurate instructions in Portuguese. Customs inspectors cannot be expected to officially check anything beyond the local language. So machine translation will do, until an end user takes the trouble to file a formal complaint.

Yesterday I saw the instructions for a dirt cheap Chinese calculator, clock, alarm, timer, and calendar, which was probably smuggled into Brazil, as the instructions are only in English. The translation can be considered good, if we take into account that whoever did it was paid 1¢/word or less. However the last phrase is a killer. Maybe it's the way the translator found to say Hey, so far you could see that I'm a decent translator! Now I'm gonna show you how much they paid me for this. It says: "Please take out the battery and install it again when the display meets dead phenomena."

[For those unfamiliar with Chinglish, it probably means "Please replace the battery when the display goes dead."]


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Lars Jelking  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 18:43
Member (2006)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Don't despair! Apr 6, 2008

It is amazing that manufacturing countries like China, Japan, and Indonesia etc. cannot produce a correct English source for further translations. Every time I receive a manual for some household appliance or exercise equipment it is the same old story: Read between the lines and try to understand the core of the text. Then apply the conclusions (and a bagful of common sense) to produce something meaningful.

One sixth of the world population lives in China. I would like to see proof of lack of qualified translators! A colleague over there expressed her knowledge in the subject, and it's simply that the manufacturer (and/or) translation agency want to save money and use unskilled freelancers such as children and housewives without any basic language skill. The result is obvious.

Again, don't despair! Before accepting the job, ask to view the source(s). If you judge it too poor simply reject it. If you feel you are up to produce something better, do it and feel proud!

Good Luck!


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 11:43
English to French
+ ...
Editing/reviewing at the least Apr 6, 2008

Katalin Horvath McClure wrote:

Well, as a Japanese-English technical translator my feeling is that this text is a candidate for retranslation from scratch.


Katalin is right - the sample translation you posted is so bad that proofreading will never fix it. Retranslating is one option, but the client may prefer to have it edited/reviewed instead, because that would be faster and cheaper. By editing/reviewing, I mean having a Japanese-to-English translator who is native in English compare source and target text and make sure that the meaning of the Japanese strings is accurately rendered in English.

I definitely would not take the risk of translating this text as it is. Imagine someone down the line get a finger cut off while using whatever device's manual this is. I wouldn't be surprised if the horrible translation - and the translator behind it - would be the first to get the finger pointed at. I would diplomatically tell the client that I cannot guarantee the quality of my final translation and that I cannot guarantee either that the resulting manual would be of any use at all to their customers. And in the end user's best interests - because there is such a thing as ethics in translation - I would refuse to translate this as is and would only accept if the client provided me with a meaningful source text.

Good luck!

[Edited at 2008-04-06 14:57]


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Constance Mannshardt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:43
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I decided to decline, but... Apr 6, 2008

I was told the agency was having problems with their client (the text source), since he (the end client) was the one who had produced that "translation" from a german original text and believed it was quite good! Since the end client refused sending me the original german text (what would have been much easier for me to work with) I sent them ALL the issues/my questions about their "english translation" along with a declaration I would not be in any case responsible for the eventual lack of consistency of the end translation in Portuguese. They accepted my terms, responded every question I had. It was a hard and stressy job, but the agency and client got what they wanted, were happy and I got paid for my work.

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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 17:43
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all Apr 6, 2008

Lars Jelking wrote:Again, don't despair!

I'm definitely not despairing (g). I just thought the subject is of an essential concern to the main stream here. Seems I was right. btw, I took on the order (before realizing what state the text is in) but it does not mean I am ready for a kamikaze (heavenly wind) mission. I sent the agency the mail as quoted above and I'll see what their reaction would be. I hope it will "D...mn (or Sch...e in German), you are right... er ... thanks so much".
Imagine someone down the line get a finger cut off while using whatever device's manual this is.

Not just that. This machine includes, additionally to moving parts, the following highlights:
i) high T (>200C) piping
ii) chemicals (like peroxide, chloric acid ...)
iii) UVC illumination for desinfection
so, the worst possible (possible!) scenario would be to get fingers cut off, toes squashed, face scalded (take your pick: steam? boiling water? H2O2? HCl? we got it all) and skin peeling off on your arms (in case you still have them) due to UV exposure.
I decided to decline, but..

I did not, it's a new agency and I can take on a certain amount of risk (the risk so far is 10 hours of my work down the drain). But at this moment my position is "non serviam", or as Saint Peter said "Etiam omnes, ego non" (maybe the other would, but me - never!)
Imagine someone down the line get a finger cut off

revisited: it's not my first encounter with this kind of toxic BS. The one I remember clearly was the warning message "Tür offen!", meaning, "Hey guys, watch out, this safety door is still open" (it was one more killer machine, only 10 times bigger than the current). The translation was "Open that door!" (...make my day, you punk...).
Victoria:... because there is such a thing as ethics in translation

You said it, Victoria.

[Edited at 2008-04-06 17:48]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:43
English to Spanish
+ ...
Rational Mind Apr 6, 2008

I have always felt that I am able to translate most things created by a rational mind expressing itself in its native language (also one of mine, of course). However, when it comes to previously translated material that criterion may no longer exist, so if the text is apparently defective I would turn it down.

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Cornelia Togea
Switzerland
Local time: 17:43
English to Norwegian
+ ...
checking the document Apr 6, 2008

I always make a big deal out of checking the doc that needs translation first, before accepting an assignment. Some challanges in the text are ok, I need and want to search and find and learn, but jobs that are too difficult just... kill me.

Good luck with your project.

[Edited at 2008-04-06 21:23]


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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:43
French to English
menace to society Apr 6, 2008

Vito Smolej wrote:

[Not just that. This machine includes, additionally to moving parts, the following highlights:
i) high T (>200C) piping
ii) chemicals (like peroxide, chloric acid ...)
iii) UVC illumination for desinfection
so, the worst possible (possible!) scenario would be to get fingers cut off, toes squashed, face scalded (take your pick: steam? boiling water? H2O2? HCl? we got it all) and skin peeling off on your arms (in case you still have them) due to UV exposure.


There really should be some kind of law declaring that manuals for machines that have more than one way of killing you need to be translated by native speakers of the target language. This is the type of thing that could get somebody sued (well at least in the US). You certainly don't need it to be you.


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kjmcguire
Netherlands
Local time: 17:43
Chinese to English
I had a similar experience in Taiwan Apr 7, 2008

I can sympathise. I received a text about the Taiwanese education system for proof-reading and it was obvious that it been put through Babelfish. The text made little sense and still contained parts of the source text (an unfinished translation perhaps).

Proof-reading the text was pointless as the specialist terms used were not standard and it was riddled with errors. I offered to translate the text from scratch but the agency preferred that I used the original author's terms and declined my offer. In the end I just told them that I couldn't proof-read something that was unintelligible, especially if they were unwilling to provide the full source text. They thanked me for my time and that was the last I heard from them.


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