I am a great fan of Tom Cruise’s movies. In one of his movies ‘Jerry Maguire’, he interprets the role of a sports agent who tries to convince his client with the famous words – “Help me, help you!” I believe that we, translators find ourselves in similar situations to Jerry Maguire when asked to translate certain documents. I often wonder that life could be a lot easier if certain steps are applied, before text is forwarded for translation. Here are some helpful tips for a more ‘easier life’; or so one hopes!
What to Avoid
Avoid complicated text
One golden rule to make your document readable is to avoid complicated text and unnecessary long sentences. Some people never chase to amaze me for the amount of sophisticated words and unnecessary punctuation they manage to put in one sentence. If one really wants the readers to read it, then it is of utmost importance to make it understood by everyone. After all, time is not a luxury for anyone. Before starting to draft the write up, it helps to set a target audience in mind.
If it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t make sense to the reader
I am sure that a lot of translators can relate to this golden rule. It can get very frustrating to read and re-read a sentence, paragraph or text and, at the same time, giggling with the words in your mind in order to understand what the message is. Apart from this, it can lead to unnecessary time consumption when the text is sent back to the agency, followed by the client and vice-versa. What a headache!
Avoid jargon words and abbreviations
Jargon words and abbreviations can be very cool if one actually knows their meaning. On the other hand, if you don’t know them, you can feel like an astronaut in outer space. It’s not funny feeling like Neil Armstrong in these circumstances. Personally, I was involved in a similar situation when I started working in a managerial position for an international organisation. In the first few days, I noticed that everybody mentioned “m. d.” abbreviation continuously. They weren’t referring to someone in the medical profession, but to the calculation of ‘man days’ needed for work to be carried out! This brings me to the next golden rule....
Avoid words of dual meaning and culture bound clichés
The concept of eating burgers in the USA may be different from the concept of eating pork in certain Islamic countries. Likewise the concept of rest or ‘siesta’ in Spain, differ from other countries. These examples show that no matter what the topic is, one should avoid culture bound clichés. On assuming that something is done in a certain way, it doesn’t mean that everyone does it that way.
What to Do
What must be done in order for the text to be more translatable? Here are 5 simple steps that can really make a whole difference.
Text should be simple and direct to the point
What’s the point of writing complicated words and long sentences if no one reads them? The solution is easy – write simple and direct to the point with the readers in mind. Make the text understandable by everyone. You can’t go wrong with this simple step!
A clear line of thinking and consistent style
Imagine being asked by a foreigner for directions in your country without having a map! It gets complicated and this is why a clear line of thinking is very important. It is always important to visualise how to ‘lead’ the reader through the different parts of information in your text. To achieve these targets, paragraph relation is paramount.
Run a spell check and review the text
I know that this step may sound silly. With a hectic schedule, it is possible that one forgets to run a spell check or doesn’t check the wordings to be changed during the spell check. This may lead to complications for the translation of text, apart from giving a self-bad impression. If one doesn’t check his/her own work, how is he/she expecting others to read it?
This may be easier said than done. Assumptions may lead to wrong translation of text. If you are writing a translation about a machine, it is of great help to have a picture or a diagram of it in order to use the proper wording in the document. Sometimes one small detail can make a whole difference!
It may happen that although all these simple steps are taken care of, problems still may arise in relation to the translation of documents due to lack of time allowance. Translators may find themselves in a tough spot between wanting to take the job (we have got to put food on the table!) and being pressed into doing the impossible within very tight timing. In these situations it is important to leave it up to the translator to inform you when the translation is going to be ready. Pressing for a shorter time period, may lead to poor translation due to lack of required care and attention!
Janet Mallia is a full-time English-Maltese freelance translator; one of the few in Malta. She used to work as a Quality Control Editor responsible for the Maltese translations for an international translation agency. In the last years, she offered her services for important projects on a national and international level. Her articles and write-ups are published in Maltese newspapers and international sites.
Her website is www.themaltesetranslator.com
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org