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Quality: How do you define it?
Thread poster: Jonathan Downie

Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
Apr 10, 2008

This debate came up as a side issue somewhere else but people's view of it interests me so I am posting it here.

When you translate, how do you define "quality" and "accuracy"? Do you define it as its closeness to the "literal" meaning of the text (if such a thing even exists), its fluency in the TL, its suitability for the purpose (ie skopos theory) or something else?

Do you think there is a discrepancy between how you define it and how your clients define it? How do you reconcile that?

Jonathan


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends on the type of text Apr 10, 2008

Translating an ad for sneakers/trainers has one set of quality requirements, while a whole different set of requirements applies to translations of legal depositions or instruction manuals. The sneaker ad has to be effective in the target culture (even if this involves considerable rewriting and adaptation), while the deposition or manual is more content driven and requires faithfulness to both the information and the register of the original.

Yet another set of quality standards applies when creating a dubbing script for an episode of a TV sitcom: the plot has to be conveyed, but the dialog also needs to sound natural (and suit the different characters' personalities, ages, social class, etc.) and must be as funny or poignant as the original.

So a single quality standard for all translations is neither possible nor desirable.


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MariusJacobsen  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 01:18
English to Norwegian
+ ...
good question Apr 10, 2008

Really interesting question actually. I have translated many projects where the overall quality of the document was so poor that I felt tempted to qualitatively improve the document at the expense of its accuracy. Some clients will insist on a 100% accurate translation even if this compromises the natural flow and style.

You mentioned suitability; now I find that this is one of the key factors when determining the importance of accuracy and quality and their respective rankings. Who is our audience? Technicians, children, senior citizens? I currently work as a technical writer and deal with technicians on a daily basis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many fragment sentences as I have since I started working here. The point is, the choppy structure enhances the overall quality of the documents because these technicians aren’t looking for colorful, stylistically brilliant language – they want clear, concise descriptions, which can be absorbed and digested at a single glance.

At the end of the day (and I hate to say this), the quality is almost directly attributed to the level of detail in the instructions of the assignment and our ability to adhere to these. Our ability to follow instructions – irrespective of whether or not these make any sense to us as translators – determines the quality AND accuracy of the final outcome (most of the time anyway).

I don't know if I really answered your question, but you got me brainstorming here...


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Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Overall quality Apr 10, 2008

This basically sums up what I think anyway. It's kind of skopos theory revisited. However, this gives us a real problem with a lot of projects where the brief is not that clear. How often do you know whether the ad is being translated to be used or for the agency to see what others have done with their product abroad?

Also, with "sample translations" flying about with limited or no idea of a brief, how can they be a real judge of quality? After all, I could be an amazing advertising copywritier but a rubbish legal writer. With agencies not really understanding the difference, they could throw out great translators just because they gave them a sample that was outside of their expertise.

It does seem that only real translators appreciate the different skills needed for different jobs, how easy is it to educate clients?


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:18
Italian to English
Adding value Apr 10, 2008

Jonathan Downie wrote

Do you think there is a discrepancy between how you define it and how your clients define it? How do you reconcile that?

Jonathan


Since it's the client that's paying, you either adjust the parameters that the clients object to or find other clients In more practical terms, I use the same basic rule of thumb as my customers and strive to add perceived value to texts I translate.

When a winery gets positive feedback from its agents about English-language advertising material I've been involved in, or a book I've translated sells well, I can probably claim to have added value to those projects. In many cases that value is at least partly quantifiable, for example if someone else's earlier translation elicited a less enthusiastic response from the market. This has a positive knock-on effect because after a first successful experience, clients are more likely to listen to your views, trust your judgement and pay you above-average rates.

I don't do legal or indeed many other types of work either but I imagine the principle is pretty much the same in most sectors.

Giles


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
Communication with the client Apr 10, 2008

Jonathan Downie wrote:

This basically sums up what I think anyway. It's kind of skopos theory revisited.


Sort of, though I think it's easy to get bogged down trying to fit things into academic categories. Just focus on the practical matter at hand: Why is this job being done?

However, this gives us a real problem with a lot of projects where the brief is not that clear. How often do you know whether the ad is being translated to be used or for the agency to see what others have done with their product abroad?


Maybe this varies by country, but my clients are usually very clear about this when assigning the job (and if they aren't, I ask).

For example, I do a lot of back-translations for the pharmaceutical industry. The companies have had translations done into languages they don't understand, so one of their quality control tools is to have another translator put the translated text back into English. Clients make clear at the outset that this is the purpose.

For those projects, a relatively literal approach is needed, often supplemented by translator's notes with comments on the supplied translation. That's very different from what I'd do in standard pharmaceutical translation.


It does seem that only real translators appreciate the different skills needed for different jobs, how easy is it to educate clients?


It takes some doing, but it can be done. If the job isn't a mad rush, you can ask questions like "Who's the target readership: doctors, patients or regulators?" or "In what country will the translation be used?"

Where client education can be most complicated is on the question of how long a translation should take. Basically it's a matter of getting clients to see translating as something more than just "typing in another language."

Regarding sample translations outside your field of expertise: Sometimes the solution is as simple as saying, "The sample you sent me is a patent translation, and I don't do patents. Do you need translations in other fields? If so, I'd be happy to perform a sample translation in one of those areas."

[Edited at 2008-04-10 13:59]


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Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Great info Apr 10, 2008

That information is fantastically useful. I do tend to go all academic as I would like to go back to University after a few years and do some practical research into some unresolved interpreting issues. I find some theories, like skopos, far more interesting and useful than others (like anything written by Venuti.)

The usefulness of the briefs I get varies by job. The first job I got had a brilliantly defined brief and it helped a lot when making decisions. I tend not to use "literal" or "free" as terms but in this case, the best way to describe the style I adopted was "reader-centred and context-based." In other words, when it was the main text, I aimed it at the specific readership listed, but when the author quoted other sources, I adopted their style, sometimes even grabbing the passage pre-translated from another source!

I still do samples or at least display a few on my profile so thanks for your info regarding agencies sending you some. I do find it funny that the clearest brief I ever had was for a volunteer job. Maybe the fact i wasn't getting paid made me braver or something.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:18
English to French
+ ...
Fitness for the purpose and clarity Apr 10, 2008

Fitness for the purpose is mainly how I define quality in translation. You need to look at the big picture. Does your translation do what it was ordered for? If the answer is yes, it is safe to say your translation is of satisfactory quality. This does not mean it is of high quality. For it to be of high quality, it would need to be crystal clear. Enter style, choice of terms and wording, phrase structures, etc.

If you can combine the two, you can say you offer quality translations. BUT you also need to make sure that the translated document will be fit for the end user's purpose, not yours, and that it will be clear to the end user, not to you. Read that last sentence again - it is key.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
General or specialised? Apr 10, 2008

I think specialised translation tends to be much more literal, much more word for word, this is why it is easier. The reason why it is more literal is because the individual words, or terminology, play an essential role in the text. The syntax and grammar tend to be much simply in the source language and can be easily reused in the target language. This type of translations lend itself to proofreading for accuracy.

In general texts, which could be marketing, publicity, correspondence etc. individual words have much less importance, their strength usually lies in the juxtaposition of ideas or the way the ideas are linked together. These texts must be translated by astute linguists who are capable of leaving the structure of the original behind to reconstruct it in accordance with the dictates of the grammar of their native language. The next stage is to find parallel texts on the internet and graft into your translation all the standard phraseology and terms so it takes on a truly authentic appearance. You may also operate compensations. The text has been fully digested and reproduced in a different form. As a result, this type of text does not lend itself very easily to proofreading. A special type of general text are speaches, here the objective is to make the speaker look good and sound intelligent, the translation is all about its appearance, form takes precedence over substance, poetic license is the order of the day.

So in the first case quality would equate to accurate and clear result, and in the second case it would equate to a discerning translation process.

I have never received a translating brief from an agency, but it would be rather immaterial anyway, since the source text itself dictates the approach I must adopt in order to translate it.


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:18
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Not so academic... Apr 10, 2008

Hi Jonathan,

I'll gladly misunderstand your question about how I define "quality" and "accuracy" in translation.

A British PM sends me a file to translate at 5 pm her time, 6 pm my time. An important element of delivering accurate quality services is responding right away. This means acknowledging receipt of the e-mail and asking for half an hour to assess if I can meet the deadline or giving a complete quote within 10 minutes.

The PM will go home without having to worry about my availability for the job. When she’ll move on to a different career she’ll give her card-index box to a colleague and she’ll comment: “This is Gerard, seasoned full-timer, knows his specialties, always there, always confirms, delivers on time and never asks question.”

There is a small discrepancy between how I define quality and accuracy and how my clients define it. The (end) clients want to sell their stuff and have no linguistic scruples per se while I’m an old-fashioned copywriter who refuses to willingly make language errors. But the client is free to make them and provide me with authorative glossaries and TUs.

And, sure, I don’t use the same tone of voice for all my translations but that’s only normal and doesn’t necessarily define the quality of my services.

Regards,
Gerard


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Binnur Tuncel van Pomeren  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:18
Member (2007)
English to Turkish
+ ...
This is just a question.. Apr 11, 2008

...that I have been thinking for few months, and for which I have found a solution in clients.

Besides, I agree with most of what is aforementioned!

Quality depends on what the end client needs...

If your end client is interested in the verbatim translation, you can bring as much style as you wish, your translation may be doomed, and you may want to bring some more precious time to compare the verbatim vs proofread translation (for the clients that don't talk your language. English may be an exception though ). Needless to say, my standard code of translation is proofread. But what is proofreading? Do you proofread an uncleaned file? I consider it rather a revision and prefer proofreading after the final readable format reached me.

Lately, I have been handling the question of quality in the following way: I have started to differentiate my services so that I can better analyse what my clients want to have.

Warmest regards to all,

Binnur



[Edited at 2008-04-11 07:40]

[Edited at 2008-04-11 08:18]


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Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The professionals speak Apr 11, 2008

... and the answer if different to the one academics give.

Really, it is pretty obvious if you think about it but it is worth debating and thinking about. After all, what does the client really mean when they say "high quality"? I believe, in most cases, they mean, it doesn't read like a translation; it works as if it was originally written in my language.

The big lie is that this kind of quality is always possible, all the time. In some documents, the inclusion of culture- and country-specific legal or technological terms necessitate some kind of gloss (or "meta-translation" if you will) that breaks the imaginary "this was written in my country" effect. The thing is that this simply exposes the truth, all translation is, to some extent, an artificial attempt at "fitting" a text from one language into another. Sometimes there is a lot of space, sometimes you need to use a shoehorn.

Perhaps we actually make it look too easy and so clients expect every text to be equally "invisibly translated." If we define quality a what the client wants and on most occasions they want "invisible translation" they may be disappointed when the text means they can't have it. Just as, for most of us, it took a university education and time to understand intertextual differences, so we need to educate clients.


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Nadezhda & Vatslav Yehurnovy  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 02:18
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Engineers say... Apr 12, 2008

Jonathan Downie wrote:

After all, what does the client really mean when they say "high quality"? I believe, in most cases, they mean, it doesn't read like a translation; it works as if it was originally written in my language.


An illustrious example of "what is high quality" given by one client, concerning the safety manual on some heavy-duty equipment (a gantry, as far as I remember) in a free-form translation from Russian:
When the operator reads the manual completely, he should remember by heart, even when called at 2 AM, how to operate the gantry, and how to be 100% sure the bloody thing does not spill neither his guts nor harms anyone in the area. And to remember it he must understand the book to a last comma. So the translation should be easy to understand for every bum in the street, including myself.

I tried to make language about 10 times less harsh as the original


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:18
Spanish to English
+ ...
How local is local? Apr 12, 2008

Jonathan Downie wrote:
In some documents, the inclusion of culture- and country-specific legal or technological terms necessitate some kind of gloss (or "meta-translation" if you will) that breaks the imaginary "this was written in my country" effect.


Right. Although for some kinds of work, making things sound TOO local can be problematic as well. If you're dubbing a movie about Albanian shepherds and they wind up sounding like they're from the Bronx or the East End of London, something's very wrong.

[Edited at 2008-04-12 18:41]


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Jonathan Downie  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:18
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
One exception Apr 12, 2008

Steven Capsuto wrote:

Jonathan Downie wrote:
In some documents, the inclusion of culture- and country-specific legal or technological terms necessitate some kind of gloss (or "meta-translation" if you will) that breaks the imaginary "this was written in my country" effect.


Right. Although for some kinds of work, making things sound TOO local can be problematic as well. If you're dubbing a movie about Albanian shepherds and they wind up sounding like they're from the Bronx or the East End of London, something's very wrong.

[Edited at 2008-04-12 18:41]


Unless you are in Hollywood, in which case it is perfectly normal! I am very interested in dubbing as it has even further constraints than translation.


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