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Poll: Which of the following do you think is the most important in producing a good translation?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

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Feb 17, 2017

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Which of the following do you think is the most important in producing a good translation?".

This poll was originally submitted by Mike Hunter. View the poll results »



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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Can't choose just one Feb 17, 2017

It's hard enough for me to choose between two things at the best of times, and questions like this asking to choose the most/best from a list of several options can be very frustrating. It would be even be hard for me to grade all the options in order of preference.

For example, I really, really, really like being able to communicate with the author/client, and clear up any doubts or lexical choices available. However, I think my own expertise is probably more important. And so on.


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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:49
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I can't choose just one! Feb 17, 2017

I would put clarity of source text high on the list, coupled with knowledge of the source language. Next would come my own expertise, which overlaps with other categories, as it includes knowledge of the source language, mastery of the target language, and experience.

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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 02:49
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I can't choose just one! Feb 17, 2017

1. Clarity of source text
2. Knowledge of the source and target languages
3. My own expertise and experience
4. Good source reference material


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Michael Harris  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:49
Member (2006)
German to English
Clarity of the source text Feb 17, 2017

for German as in the technical field, some very clever engineers get carried away when they are having a creative phase.

Most of the other points should actually come from alone


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Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 10:49
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Can't choose just one Feb 17, 2017

A no-brainer IMHO

Quality can be defined in a multitude of ways, so it gives that there is also a multitude of ways to achieve this.

Every customer has (or should have) their own idea of what they want - in other words, their own quality requirements or standards.
So, I think "Giving the customer what they want or ask for" should be another option. After all, the customer is going to kick up a fuss if they feel that the translator has not delivered something that is up to their expectations.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:49
Russian to English
+ ...
Your own skills, Feb 17, 2017

I would say. I chose expertise because that it was the closest option. By skills I mean the knowledge of the source language (full knowledge, perhaps not the whole vocabulary that a good dictionary may have but close, including the cultural context), writing skills in the target language, attention to detail, knowledge of translation techniques. The quality of translation has nothing to do with the relationship with the Project Manger or the quality of paper, or even formatting. Formatting can always be fixed but not the other things.

[Edited at 2017-02-17 09:46 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:49
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Expertise includes several others Feb 17, 2017

To produce a good translation, it is probably necessary to include several of the factors mentioned, but I voted for expertise, as it will include other factors and experience of how to deal with questions and problems.

With expertise and thorough knowledge of the source text, you may know what is meant, even if the source text is not very well written.

With expertise you have already used the best reference materials and have some at your fingertips.

In expertise I include mastery of the target language. You can then write a good text with the intended meaning, or you can translate the source, flaws and all, if that is what the client really wants. Here the purpose will determine what a good translation is!

Under 'nice to have but not necessary' I would classify a good relationship with the PM and being able to ask questions. Indeed, relationships with PMs are greatly enhanced by delivering good translations, but you can still deliver a good translation, even if the PM is not at all helpful - just ignore her/him and find resources elsewhere!


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Other! Feb 17, 2017

Time.

The more time I take, the better the job I will do.

But the amount of time I can afford to take will depend on how much I'm being paid.

So the answer is also money.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 22:49
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I'd reverse that question... Feb 17, 2017

... into "What is the most frequent factor that spoils a potentially good translation?"

All right! The translator is fluent in the source language, understands the subject matter sufficiently, has got answers to all the relevant questions, but... the translation is awful to read!

I wouldn't say it's merely "poor writing skills" in the target language, but the inability to strip the translation from some source-language peculiarities. I see it happening all too often.

In Brazil we have an expression for that, "morrer na praia", literally "to die on the beach". It means surviving a ship wreck, relentlessly swimming towards land, and eventually dying on the beach upon arrival. Most of the posts on the web suggest that its equivalent in EN is "to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory", but I don't think it is equally visual. I'd rather have something like "a rotten cherry on the top".

This is where the often required "native speakers" of the target language lose it to skilled foreign translators.

Now and then I read translations into PT done by country fellows of mine, and I can't turn off a virtual green neon sign flashing "TRANSLATED!!!" all over.

A few of the many characteristic signs of this phenomenon in translations from English into Portuguese are:

  • Abusive frequency of pronouns - In EN, verbs are not conjugated, so a 'whodunit' pronoun is required by every verb. In PT they are, hence as long as the subject of the action doesn't change, the verb alone is enough. Some translations into PT are obnoxiously pronoun-ridden.
  • Adjectives preceding nouns - This is the standard in EN, however it should be used sparingly in PT for some occasional literary effect. The standard is having adjectives following the noun(s) they qualify, especially when there is a sequence thereof. When this is the case, at most one adjective may precede the noun, e.g. "um grande carro vermelho de duas portas, todo amassado" for "a big red two-door, all dented car".
  • Punctuation marks inside the quotes or parentheses, while these are placed outside in PT.
  • Misplaced false cognates - Though some areas of human knowledge (typically medicine, IT, electronics) have sanctioned some false cognates, thus causing them to appear in dictionaries, their use outside the corresponding field not always being proper.
  • Dialogues/quotations using quotes where the standard in PT is long dashes ("travessão") though many book publishers have given up on this.
  • Prepositions left in - In EN, "to (verb)" is that verb in its infinitive form, and "to" in this case shouldn't be blindly translated as a preposition, "para" everythere. IOW "Click to accept" becomes "Clique para aceitar"; however "our goals are: a) to accomplish..." should NOT be "nossas metas são: a) PARA alcançar...". The preposition PARA has no place being there.
  • Gerundism I - While gerunds are normal in EN to describe some ensuing action, e.g. "I will be sending you...", it is not acceptable in PT. This translation flaw alone in the Brazilian telemarketing and customer service industries has caused these workers to develop a gerund-laden language of their own, which they dutifully read from translated scripts, and moved on to use in their ad-lib conversations. It's a national joke in Brazil now.
  • Gerundism II - Gerunds in EN are often used in lieu of nouns. In PT a gerund means some continuous action, so an EN gerund, mostly when used as a title, should be replaced with a noun in PT. Airlines got it right, a "Boarding Pass" has been translated as "Bilhete de embarque", however I've seen too many instruction manuals where "Packing" has been translated as "Embalando" (gerund) instead of "Embalagem" (noun).
  • Titles (of articles, books, etc.) With All First Letters in Upper Case - While it's normal to use them in EN, the rule in PT is to have only the very first letter capitalized, e.g. "Títulos com apenas a primeira inicial em letra maiúscula".


The list goes on. I wouldn't expect machine translation to "know" or to keep in "mind" all these, though AI parsing might cover many items. However the result leaves the reader in a quandary on whether it's machine or human translation. Either way, in an extreme case, it looks like English written using Portuguese words.

The skilled translator must be aware of these different quirks that probably exist differently within every language pair. An effective solution is to "translate" the source text into a nondescript mental idea, and then say it in the target language, as one would, naturally.

This is what led me to the concept I had a few years ago, that a bilingual person is someone capable of expressing his/her own ideas in two different languages; while a translator is someone skilled in expressing someone else's ideas in a language different from the one in which they were originally issue.

As soon as I translate the source text into a nondescript mental idea, I can say it in the target language in the way I would naturally do so. It becomes my idea - as I have it on my mind for a brief period of time - no matter whether I agree with it or not.


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Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:49
Member (2008)
English to Italian
I can't choose one. Feb 17, 2017

My expertise, my time, distractions, glossaries available, opportunity to talk with experts in the field or the (end) client. All of these factors are equally important.

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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:49
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Expertise Feb 17, 2017

Target language
Source language
Subject matter



[Edited at 2017-02-17 17:13 GMT]


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Hege Jakobsen Lepri  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:49
Member (2002)
English to Norwegian
+ ...
All of the above Feb 17, 2017

+ time
+ the occasional moment of god-like genius


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Jaime Oriard  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:49
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Agree Feb 17, 2017

Teresa Borges wrote:

1. Clarity of source text
2. Knowledge of the source and target languages
3. My own expertise and experience
4. Good source reference material


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Romina Eva Pérez Escorihuela
Argentina
Local time: 22:49
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I can't choose just one... Feb 17, 2017

... but, when doing highly technical translations (just as I have been doing for the whole week), I find the "Ability to raise queries, and get responses" (from my customer) vital...

[Edited at 2017-02-17 21:39 GMT]


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