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"Is Technical Translation Really a Collaborative Activity?" (an article)
Thread poster: Vesna Zivcic

Vesna Zivcic  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:26
German to Croatian
+ ...
Oct 30, 2003

I have found today an interesting article titled "Is Technical Translation Really a Collaborative Activity?" by Steve Vitek, a technical translator. He questions there the collaborative approach to technical translations. The article is rather lengthy, but it is worth reading.

One excerpt:

"Those Who Can Translate Usually Translate, And Those Who Can’t .... Edit

Which is not to say that proofreading is not useful and in fact indispensable, even proofreading a translation that is xcellent. Everybody makes mistakes. But a concept that translation should be approached like a public meeting at the City Hall, where we all put our heads together and arrive at the perfect solution in our collective wisdom, is fatally flawed.

This concept is, in my humble opinion, nonsense, even if it were economically feasible to have five qualified expert translators check a translation several times. Based on my experience over the last two decades here and in Japan, the reality is that coordinators and proofreaders who work for translation agencies are rarely expert translators. The reason is similar to the reason why good patent lawyers and doctors usually don’t become translators. While technical translators usually make less than lawyers and doctors, a good translator of Japanese or German patents can easily make more than $100 an hour when translating. Why would such a person want to make a fraction of that amount by checking other people’s work, which is not nearly as interesting as translating? So what really happens is that those who can translate, translate, and those who cannot, edit."

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Local time: 13:26
Italian to Japanese
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About proofreaders and checkers Oct 31, 2003

What the article in question says is fundamentally true. Although it mainly refers to patent translations, the same thoughts can apply to normal technical and non-technical translations as well, particularly when considering very large consumer product companies that can afford extra-costs on top of translation ones. I think that proofreaders and checkers can be divided into two main categories: outsourced translators, who have all the the interest in casting shadows on other translators to their own advantage, and company employees, who spend almost all their time doing a non-interesting, tiring and perhaps frustrating job, yet important.

For the former category nothing can be done about: this class of proofreaders will always exist and continue to be the proof that, with due exeptions, translators are ready to stab other translators as soon as the occasion presents itself. Unfortunately not many company or translation agencies possess the necessary knowledge or experience to unmask these nice professionals, although I think in the long run they will disappear or retire from the market.

But in my opinion the second category can be even more dangerous. Not being most of the times professional or true translators, and more importantly often not knowing the languages they should know if they are supposed to check, they end up pretending literal translations so that, with the help of a dictionary, they can happily make very strict and unreasonable tests, such as counting if the number of times a specific word has been inserted in the target text matches that of the source text, or pretending to maintain the same syntactical order in the source and in the target text, and so on. Sometimes they even suggest linguistically wrong corrections but get riled when they are contested back. To make things worse, they do this without realizing that sometimes the source text is, for instance, a bad or a poor translation made from other languages; this is certainly the case of translations made into English from languages such as Japanese, Chinese or the like by non-native English speakers. This happen very frequently, at least in Japan, and what surprises me is that not many companies or translation agencies care enough to pick up this anomaly.

After many years in the translation field, I have finally realized that many translation agencies are all except truly professional service providers. Again, with the due exceptions, they are just hirelings with no love for the special work they are doing and, whether they do the proofreading job either by means of their own employees or by outsourcing external translators, they intentionally refrain from teaching their clients how real translations should work.

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Mónica Machado
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:26
English to Portuguese
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Proofreaders are not all good but Oct 31, 2003


I quite disagree with the opinions that proofreaders are the worst part in the translation process. I know from reality that proofreaders exist because there are translators who can't just follow the glossaries and the guidelines they have received for that particular project.

I know this from my own experience. I work both as a translator and a proofreader in three specific areas and during my working experience have noticed that there are many fellow translators that can't just follow the guidelines and glossaries they received for a particular project. Therefore, when their work comes to the proofreader, it is the proofreader's task to ensure all that material complies with end-client guidelines. So, in that case if we put the proofreader aside the document will not respect the clients guidelines.

Of course, there are also some proofreaders that will change anything just because they think they are more important than translators.

So, I think we can't generalize too much. There are good translators and good proofreaders and there are also the opposite. But good and not-so-good professionals exist in every business.

If both translators and proofreaders could work together the final result would be exquisite.

Best regards,
Mónica Machado (MIL)

English into European Portuguese Translator
Member of APT and IOL & Associate Member of ITI

[Edited at 2003-10-31 18:19]

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