Translating native versus translated English sources into other languages
Thread poster: Lianne van de Ven

Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:23
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Jul 5, 2017

Since English is world language #1, it is understandable that a lot of international texts first get translated into English before further translation into other languages. However, I recently had two such texts and they took considerably more time on my part to translate them into my native (Dutch) language.

One was a specialized medical instruments manual (for a reputable translation agency) and was probably translated from a German into English, but possibly first from another language into German. It did not follow common US standards in lay-out, abbreviations and style. I eventually had a native US doctor go over the text who said "this is just not how we say this." Whenever I tried to find references for terminology, I ended up with 5 to 15 rather obscure sources or patents. It turned out that I was translating a medical device purchased by a German medical equipment manufacturer that was originally developed by another European country for use with animals.

The other text was a 15K standard text (informed consent) for medical research, either translated from Spanish or written by a Spanish author who reads/writes English quite well but definitely not native, with a lot of passive voice and tons of redundant statements. The style was just not standard either, and it took me nearly twice as much time to convert this into decent Dutch that matched the rest of the standard forms that was already translated.

I am concerned that this kind of work will increase. What's your experience with this?
And related: how do you look at collaborating with a non-English translation agency for English to your language?


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 10:23
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Well... Jul 5, 2017

When you work with international organizations this is quite common because a lot of people contribute to the same document and some of them are not native. That’s why some EU texts written in the English language are so criticized: they look (and are) much more like a patchwork quilt than a neatly written document.

Regarding the second question I translate mostly from English into Portuguese and all my customers (direct clients and translation agencies) are neither English nor Portuguese. I have no problem whatsoever with that.


 

Robert Rietvelt  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:23
Member (2006)
Spanish to Dutch
+ ...
What is new? Jul 5, 2017

Almost all source documents I receive are written:

A) In a sloppy way, so many sentences don't make sense.
B) In an exaggerated way (= like they asked 'William' to write a document, and he feels like Shakespeare (but isn't), grabs a dictionary and writes a totally incomprehensible text).
C) In a totally 'impossible to understand' way (smells a lot like MT).
D) In a 'translation of a translation' way (as mentioned by Lianne).
E) In a 'where is the context?' way.
F) In a 'I am not a native' way (happens a lot with Scandinavians who are writing in English. I don't know why. They talk perfect English, and at first sight, the written text also looks like perfect English, till you start translating. It's almost English, but not quite).

In short, the times I received a correct written source document are few.

[Edited at 2017-07-05 17:31 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-05 22:28 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-05 22:29 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-05 22:29 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:23
Russian to English
+ ...
I think it may be wothwhile for some of you to read Jul 6, 2017

some new materials about the sociolinguistic make up of Europe, now, and what happens to languages in times of mass-migration. I think some of you are expecting some irrational things, like an abstract standard of a certain language, where in fact a language is just an abstract--it is made of idiolects, dialects, etc. You may be expecting something that does not exist in real life. And yes, the state of the art of writing is in a quite poor state, mostly due to texting, I guess.

I think it may be advisable for translators, and not only, to take some classes in linguistics, and especially sociolinguistics.

[Edited at 2017-07-06 07:52 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 11:23
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It is definitely a problem Jul 6, 2017

I have to admit that on occasions I have been the perpetrator of texts from other languages to be relayed from English.

Not, however, on the scale you describe - in many cases the texts were marketing for cosmetics and personal care products, and the Scandinavian mindset is not so very different from those on the English market. Gorgeous new colours, the latest for spring/autumn/ whatever...

It is a dilemma, however - do you translate what the text says, so the next translator can see where it started, or do you translate into normal English, and let the next translator take it from there?
With the international safety sentences, of course, I used the English versions, which were mandatory, and that would be no problem. (Keep away from children, flammable, etc.) They are easily found in all the EU languages that my text would be translated into.

From three, my policy was that where there is specific, standard terminology, it should be used as in English, not reflecting Swedish or other source-language usage.
I was a little uncertain about some technical details of industrial washing machines, to be translated from Danish, ultimately to Chinese, and I struggled at one time with texts about wind turbines. The client was helpful with terminology, and I tried very hard to produce 'real English', not a reflection of the source language.

It is a very definitely a problem, and I suspect it will become more serious as machine translation is used increasingly for technical translation. MT cannot adapt between cultures as a human translator can. It translates the words, but not the subtle differences in usage. If MT itself is using intermediate languages, real or artificial, there are even more sources of error and confusion.
___________________

There really ARE cultural differences. I have occasionally tried to help Danish colleagues faced with the same problem - they have to translate from a source that was either written by a non-native speaker of English, or, sometimes worse in fact, an English native who was not a subject expert, and simply did not use the normal terminology.

This can be a disaster in medical texts. The translator is left wondering - the English is so good, but if they do not use the expected terminology, what precisely do they mean? Do they use different terminology because they simply do not know any better, or do they actually mean something different?

Either way, as Lianne points out, it takes much longer to work out the meaning and translate it meaningfully into the target language.

I am not sure that studying a lot of sociolinguistics will help in practice. The problem is perfectly easy to understand, but I think the answer is to get back to clients and explain again and again, that either it costs extra for all the detective work required to understand the source, or that agencies must be more critical about the English translators they use to produce the English version.

It is NOT, repeat NOT a job for just any beginner! Translating for retranslation calls for extra care to make sure the original message is correct and transparent for the colleague who has to take it further!


 

Nadja Balogh  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 02:23
Member (2007)
Japanese to German
+ ...
Reading "through" the source English Jul 6, 2017

With my language pairs (Japanese/English > German), I frequently receive English source documents either written or translated by a Japanese. The quality varies (with a clear tendency toward bad quality...).
Still, because I know Japanese, I can sort of recognize the Japanese through the English source, which is extremely helpful when trying to find out what the author really wanted to say.
But I know that there are many translators without this helpful Japanese background who are supposed to make sense of the stuff - which must be very frustrating.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 12:23
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Hopefully this will change now Jul 6, 2017

After brexit the importance of English will greatly diminish, then we will have to do with German texts written by Danes etc.icon_smile.gif
I must say I seldom get nowadays stuff that is poorly written in English. But a lot of stuff in German written sloppily by native Germans (or Austrians).

When the well-known Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen was on tour in the USA she was often asked, why don't you write in English?


 

Aleksandra Muraviova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 14:23
Japanese to Russian
+ ...
Up to point Jul 6, 2017

Lianne, this definitely is a problem, and I doubt that it will go away.
I actually have worse examples of this, because my examples are texts from a game, which were originally written in Japanese, then translated into English, and that English text was used as a source to be translated into Russian, German, Spanish etc. The text is literary, of course. I know Japanese, so I could trace the oddities in the English text back to the original source, but the project was big and I wasn't the only translator, yet basically the only one who could read Japanese.
When I played the game later, after it had been released, I noticed too many discrepancies that could probably ruin the experience for other gamers (because they definitely did for me).
For example: a character is rather displeased in Japanese, and expresses it. In English, this character became very annoyed and even angry. In Russian, the character basically yells.

The thing is, there was no grave mistake in Ja-En translation, and there was barely a mistake in En Ru translation. It's the combination of transformation that ruined it all.

[Edited at 2017-07-06 17:00 GMT]

[Edited at 2017-07-06 17:01 GMT]


 

Lianne van de Ven  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:23
Member (2008)
English to Dutch
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Maybe it requires a clearer distinction between translation and localization Jul 6, 2017

Aleksandra Muraviova wrote:
For example: a character is rather displeased in Japanese, and expresses it. In English, this character became very annoyed and even angry. In Russian, the character basically yells.

The thing is, there was no grave mistake in Ja-En translation, and there was barely a mistake in En Ru translation. It's the combination of transformation that ruined it all.



I would say that a displeased Japanese character is definitely more pleasant if not refreshing to deal with than an annoyed English one. I wish that could be retained in the translated game. Never mind the yelling Russian....icon_wink.gif

Translation versus localizion should have distinct purposes and maybe game makers should make two versions.
And maybe I will stick closer to (mere) translation from now on.


 

Aleksandra Muraviova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 14:23
Japanese to Russian
+ ...
It's cultural, because it's literary Jul 7, 2017

Lianne van de Ven wrote:

Aleksandra Muraviova wrote:
For example: a character is rather displeased in Japanese, and expresses it. In English, this character became very annoyed and even angry. In Russian, the character basically yells.

The thing is, there was no grave mistake in Ja-En translation, and there was barely a mistake in En Ru translation. It's the combination of transformation that ruined it all.



I would say that a displeased Japanese character is definitely more pleasant if not refreshing to deal with than an annoyed English one. I wish that could be retained in the translated game. Never mind the yelling Russian....icon_wink.gif

Translation versus localizion should have distinct purposes and maybe game makers should make two versions.
And maybe I will stick closer to (mere) translation from now on.


Well, the problem here stems from cultural localization, which is a part of any translation process to a certain extent. Japanese are generally more polite, so transformation from "displeased" to "annoyed" is OK, although I'm not a fan of it. And Russians, as the matter of fact, would rather express annoyance where Japanese are just displeased. But Russians are more prone to yelling in cases when our English-speaking counterparts would be just very annoyed.

So yeah, we're getting a bit off-topic here, but there certainly is a problem to be mentioned.


 


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