Off topic: Translators don't understand grammar
Thread poster: Philip Lees

Philip Lees  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 09:42
Member (2008)
Greek to English
Oct 13, 2014

Apart from translation, I also do a lot of technical editing work for an international company. They have also started offering what they call "translation services", aimed mainly at the Far East, under which texts are translated, after which the translation undergoes the usual editing process performed by somebody like me, who does not have access to the original non-English text and in any case does not know the source language.

In their latest newsletter, the "quality manager" of their translation team points out that parts of this process "can be fairly challenging" and that "there is a high chance of the author's intended meaning getting lost". He attributes this partly to the fact that "Translators do not have the same skill set as editors—in fact, some of them may not have a perfect grasp of English grammar".

I took issue with this, suggesting, rather forcefully, that the writer perhaps did not have a clear picture of the translation profession. However, apparently I was being too sensitive, as in his reply to me the writer of the article questioned whether all translators would find the above statement offensive.

So I thought I would solicit the views of my excellent professional colleagues on these forums. Was I being too sensitive? I will be happy to pass on your responses to the person in question.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:42
Member (2007)
German to English
Don't write 'perfect'. Oct 13, 2014

... He attributes this partly to the fact that "Translators do not ... not have a perfect grasp of English grammar". ...


I very seriously doubt that anybody ever had, has, or ever will have a 'perfect' grasp of English grammar or the grammar of any other language for that matter. To me 'perfect' implies that such a person never has, never does, and never will commit even the slightest grammatical error.

The only person I can think of who might possibly have a perfect grasp of English grammar would, by stipulation, be the king of England. However (as far as I'm aware) there currently is no such person.


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Helen Hagon  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:42
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
A little sensitivity is a good thing Oct 13, 2014

I agree that the use of the word 'perfect' is perhaps wrong. Of course, nobody is perfect, but that applies to editors just as much as translators.

Nevertheless an 'excellent' knowledge of target language grammar is essential for all good translators. Telling someone that they lack one of the key skills of their profession can be offensive. However, if it is true that their translators are deficient in this area, perhaps they should consider employing people who are better qualified to do the job.


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Texte Style
Local time: 08:42
French to English
hmmm Oct 13, 2014

How much are the translators being paid?

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 08:42
English to Polish
+ ...
... Oct 13, 2014

Thanks, Phil. That's exactly my own sentiment these days. I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Richard Bartholomew wrote:

I very seriously doubt that anybody ever had, has, or ever will have a 'perfect' grasp of English grammar or the grammar of any other language for that matter.


English grammar would need to be internally consistent first, and King Arthur will come back to life before that happens.

(On the other hand, I can attest on the basis of personal experience that having a central language authority anointed by law and government is not really all that appealing once you've had to deal with one for a while.)

To me 'perfect' implies that such a person never has, never does, and never will commit even the slightest grammatical error.


Even if one actually, 'objectively' managed to, we'd all still differ at least a little in the judgement of it. There's no way of getting everybody to agree on grammar or even submit to more or less official authorities.


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Gabriele Demuth  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:42
Member (2014)
English to German
Maybe he thinks a translator is just a bilingual person Oct 13, 2014

Philip Lees wrote:

He attributes this partly to the fact that "Translators do not have the same skill set as editors—in fact, some of them may not have a perfect grasp of English grammar".



Rather than trying to analyse what is meant by 'perfect grammar', it would be more helpful to think about what that person expects of a translator or thinks a translator is. I assume his translators are low skilled non English native speakers on a fairly low pay rate, whereas of editors he expects professional publishable work.





[Bearbeitet am 2014-10-13 13:59 GMT]


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
MT is free Oct 13, 2014

[/quote]

I assume his translators are low skilled non English native speakers on a fairly low pay rate, whereas of editors he expects professional publishable work.

[/quote]

Should that be the case, it makes no sense to employ cyber-quasi-translators of that sort, even at low rates; MT is free.

The point I am trying to make is that many professional translators also act as professional editors. it is also common practice that translators mutually check/review each other's work. That does not mean one translator is said to be "inferior", in terms of their grammar skills, than the other. It is, simply put, "safer" to have someone read your text and make reasonable suggestions.

This is a bit "off-topic", but native or not, one needs solid grammar skills anyway in both languages. And "native", I mean just that, does not guarantee quality either. Would you sustain that strong leg muscles are optional for a world class sprinter? Will good looks suffice?

Grammar is necessary; you need to figure out in long phrases which part relates to what. Otherwise, you may well alter the very meaning of the phrase. And then you have to convey that meaning to your target language and someone will have to understand the text exactly that way. This is, basically, the reason that MT translations are not proofreading / reviewing / editing jobs; these are clearly re-translations and should be regarded as such in all aspects.


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Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:42
French to English
+ ...
Perfect grasp of *what* precisely? Oct 13, 2014

Richard Bartholomew wrote:

... He attributes this partly to the fact that "Translators do not ... not have a perfect grasp of English grammar". ...


I very seriously doubt that anybody ever had, has, or ever will have a 'perfect' grasp of English grammar or the grammar of any other language for that matter.


The problem I see is... what does "perfect grasp of English grammar" even mean in the first place? When somebody uses a phrase such as this, they obviously have some specific idea of what they see as constituting "English grammar". But if they were pushed to actually define it, would they be able to do so?


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Rachel Fell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:42
French to English
+ ...
@Philip Oct 13, 2014

No, of course you're not.

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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 14:42
Chinese to English
Hang on Oct 13, 2014

As Gabriele pointed out, this guy wasn't putting forward an argument about the nature of grammar. He was making excuses for using low quality labour and expecting his editors to pick up the slack. He's got a bunch of Chinese translators to do rubbish C to E translation, and now he's making random claims to try to justify his cost-cutting. Unfortunately, that kind of claim is rampant in Chinese-English translation, and they have a baleful effect on the industry.

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philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I agree with him. Oct 13, 2014

He says "some of them may not have a perfect grasp of English grammar". That's not a very controversial statement - as in all professions, a substantial minority are not very good at the job, and should probably be doing something else.

If you looked at the recent ProZ competition entries, a significant proportion (in my language pairs at least) were so full of grammatical and other errors as to be unusable.


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:42
Finnish to English
Absolutely Oct 14, 2014

Like say mechanics does not understand clutches, dentists fails to comprehend the workings of a gums and my doctor do not knows what are wrong with I even though me is feeling bad


s


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