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Translating into UK English
Thread poster: conejo

conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:19
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Jul 18, 2008

I am a native speaker of US English, living in the US. Lately, I seem to get a lot of clients asking me to translate documents into UK English. They seem to think that this idea is all hunky dory, just ask the American translator to translate into British English, and it will be all good. But, I have a lot of doubts about this idea.

Since UK English spell-check exists, and I can set a document's language to UK English, I should be able to make sure UK English spellings are used (behaviour/analyse instead of behavior/analyze), and I could do a manual check of this as well. But beyond that, I don't really have any confidence in being able to know what is UK English or not.

I am curious if anybody else has had this problem, people asking to translate into their non-native version of English, and what sort of pitfalls arose from it.

In general is this a bad idea to even take on such a project?


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:19
German to English
+ ...
depends on the subject matter and audience Jul 18, 2008

For technical translation in scientific and engineering fields, there may not be much difference (especially with relatively modern technologies such as electronics and IT). On the other hand, there are major differences in many fields, such as legal, fashion, sports, and popular culture in general (and of course anything intended for advertising purposes). If your clients are asking you to produce translations for a UK audience in the latter areas, you should at least tell them that they may not achieve the desired results.

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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:19
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Ken Jul 18, 2008

I agree with Ken. If you have not lived in the UK, you never know where the differences might be. I usually explain the situation to the client and decline.

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Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
Member (2004)
German to English
the exchange rate is in your favour Jul 18, 2008

they don't want to pay us over here - we are too expensive

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:19
English to Spanish
+ ...
Versions Jul 18, 2008

It is much harder to change versions within a language than it is to work between different languages, and it's sure not a matter of just "labour" for "labor", etc.

In my own case, into English it will be USA, and into Spanish it will be Mexican, pure and simple. That is how I think, and that is how it will come out.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
French to English
+ ...
hefty disclaimer Jul 18, 2008

I have occasionally been asked to do this, but the other way round (into US English when I'm from the UK). I say that I will gladly switch the US spellchecker on, but that it is very likely that there are some features of my writing that are characteristically British and of which I might not be aware. Then the client can take it or leave it.

I agree with Gillian that money may well be a consideration here...


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:19
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Characteristically British writing Jul 18, 2008

Yes, I agree with what you said... As an editor I have often edited documents translated into English by Australians, and to me a lot of the phrasing sounded odd just in general, but I suspect that it may be perfectly fine for Australian English. Nevertheless, as the editor, I changed it to what sounded right to my ears (the default language variant for that client is US English).

[Edited at 2008-07-18 16:59]


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Catherine Brix
Local time: 07:19
Swedish to English
+ ...
What do you do when the customer asks for "international English"? Jul 18, 2008

Increasingly more customers - and I'm talking agencies here - request International English on behalf of their customers. I'm stumped. Still haven't figured it out. When I ask, it turns they want British spelling but the umph and brevity of American writing. (Not sure if they're aware of the existence of other English styles.)

What I'm getting at is that customers rarely know the difference. Certainly, there are loads of differences in various fields, but if you stick within your areas of expertise chances are pretty good you're aware of these. As already noted, it's fair to make the customer aware of your concerns; after that, all you can do is your best.

Good luck!
Catherine


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Put the boot on the other foot and I can answer your question Jul 18, 2008

Hi

I am a native UK English speaker and if a client asked me to translate into US English I would decline purely and simply. The two forms of English are poles apart and I would not wish to meddle with a language other than my own seriously native one. It could end up a mish-mash of horrors!

Liz Askew


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Natalia Potashnik  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:19
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Not a good idea Jul 18, 2008

UK English differs from US English and it is not just spelling. English is not my native language. However I lived 9 years in Australia where they speak British English before the fate brought me to the US. Switching to American English was a painful process. I will give you a few of examples.
French fries (US) - chips (UK)
Meal to go (US) - take away (UK)
Gas (US) - petrol (UK). If you say 'gas' meaning "gasoline" the British will think that you talk about natural gas. And so on and so forth.

If you do not know these things then you will not suspect that 'gas' must be replaced with 'petrol'.


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 07:19
Italian to English
UK/US English and UK/US-friendly writing Jul 18, 2008

Quite a lot of my work involves translating journalistic Italian for US publishers.

As a UK English speaker, I cannot hope to deliver 24-carat US English but I can produce a text that will at least be accessible, and if I'm lucky appealing, to speakers of the other dialect.

To do this, it is necessary to stick to a localised style guide so that US readers aren't annoyed by full stops placed after inverted commas instead of in front of them and so on. Above all, it helps to have a good US copy editor who can assess the impact of idioms in the local context. The best translations are the result of teamwork that involves the original author, the translator and the copy editor.

At the end of the day, though, readers seem to prefer a well-written translation in either dialect to extreme localisation. The occasional Americanism in fluent UK English, or Briticism in compelling US English, tends to be perceived as an attractive styleme, not a translation error.

Giles


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:19
Spanish to English
+ ...
I do a lot of these, but... Jul 18, 2008

They're mostly for British clients who plan to do a final edit themselves. They always send me the edited version afterward (or, if you're British, "afterwards"), and over time I've gotten very good at faking British English. But I still prefer for the text to be edited by a native speaker from Britain, just in case.

The important thing to know is that just setting your spelling software to "UK" isn't enough. There are differences in syntax, vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, style, register, etc.

[Edited at 2008-07-19 02:46]


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Natalia Potashnik  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:19
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Don't forget that Britain is on the metric system and the US is not Jul 18, 2008

Units of measure, temperature and even time may need to be converted for translations in UK English.

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Britain is officially on the metric system, but... Jul 18, 2008

Miles, pounds, feet, inches etc. are still widely used colloquially. In engineering and any other scientific texts you will certainly need to convert. But if it's something more colloquial, a short story, say, and a character is asking how far it is from one place to another, the answer would be more likely to be given in miles than km. Though petrol is sold in litres (liters!), fuel consumption is still given in miles per gallon. And by the way, an Imperial gallon is slightly larger than a US gallon.
Your earlier reference to gas/gasoline/petrol reminds me of an incident in the German Ardennes offensive at the end of 1944. Some German units were disguised in American uniforms and were trying to pass through the US lines. They were caught and captured when one of them stopped at a US Army filling station and asked for "petrol".


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:19
French to English
+ ...
Editing is key Jul 18, 2008

I think editing is key here. I am frequently asked to do documents into "international" English for a certain agency with a lot of Canadian/US clients. However, I know that they always use editors of the target language variant, so any US/UK discrepancies will be picked up at that stage. In a specialist field such as power generation or environment matters, it's often easier to have the translation done by a subject specialist and then polished up for specific language content. I certainly don't have a problem with that, as long as they're aware that I speak British English. I have also been asked to edit translations for the same client to make them suitable for the British market and have ended up with quite a lot of red pen, even though the translation itself was probably fine for the US market. This would be a pointless exercise for an editorial type of text, but for technical texts, it's not too much of an issue, as other people have said.

[Edited at 2008-07-18 23:53]


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