Poll: Do you read the source text before starting the translation?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 22:46
Apr 29, 2006

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you read the source text before starting the translation?".

This poll was originally submitted by nico95

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A forum topic will appear each time a new poll is run. For more information, see: http://proz.com/topic/33629


Reed James
Local time: 02:46
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Always Apr 29, 2006

The more I know about the source text before translating, the clearer a picture I get about the document. As a result, the translating process goes smoother, and it tends to make me want to look up any new terminology or difficult wording beforehand.

If it is a .txt or .doc file, I will sometimes skim through the source text (and later on the target text too) with WinBlit: www.winblit.com.



Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:46
Turkish to English
+ ...
I don't see any point. Apr 29, 2006

It probably flies in the face of orthodoxy, but I don't see any point in sitting and reading the whole of a text before translating it.
I start out by making a rough draft version, anyway, and at this stage I highlight words or expressions that I am not sure about or will need researching or are just 'fill ins' that I know will need to be replaced when I go back to produce a polished version. If as I work the context provides fresh clues or pointers than it is so easy to go back and change things. This is the freedom that word processors give us, after all, to keep revising and editing until you are satisfied. It was probably different in the days of the typewriter when you couldn't easily change things once they were typed so you had to be sure that you had all the contextual cues before you started typing.
I think so much depends on the type of text and the kind of translation. If I were doing a close-to-text translation of a standard legal document, I would simply start with sentence one of the source text and translate. If, on the other hand, I were translating a brochure that was to be published then I would certainly skim through it and read all the headings to get a general overview, but as I adopt the procedure described above and would work on the text several times until I was satisfied with it, I wouldn't see any point in sitting and reading it through in great detail before starting work.
Well, that's my view, and if it's iconoclastic so be it!


Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:46
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I completely agree with Tim Apr 29, 2006

Hi Tim!

You said it all. My time is better spent delving into the text and getting a full understanding of it by actually translating it. I've never found that reading the text first was much help.

Also, if I read it, I start itching to translate it, so it's frustrating.

That's just the way I work, and it has always worked for me.


Szymon Wcisło (X)
Local time: 07:46
Romanian to Polish
+ ...
There's no one solution Apr 29, 2006


as Tim said - it all depends on the text itself. If it's just one another bit of tens of similar contracts you translate everyday, there really isn't any point in reading the whole text before.
But (!) - which one of us works with similar documents only? (It would be extremely boring, by the way!). Anyway, I can't imagine translating a novel, let's say, before reading it AT LEAST once, and making a profund analisys, working out a strategy, identifying different "sub-languages" and so on.

So, I think there isn't a definitive answer to this question.

Best regards,



Aurora Humarán (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:46
English to Spanish
+ ...
I never read the source text Apr 29, 2006

Tim Drayton wrote:

I start out by making a rough draft version, anyway, and at this stage I highlight words or expressions that I am not sure about or will need researching or are just 'fill ins' that I know will need to be replaced when I go back to produce a polished version. If as I work the context provides fresh clues or pointers than it is so easy to go back and change things.

I work in a very similar way. In my first stage I don't even stop to do word research, unless a special word stops me (a key one without which the meaning does not flow.)



M. Anna Kańduła  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:46
English to Polish
I look over it Apr 29, 2006

Check the lenght, read some part here and there... but all? No. Especially since I usually translate user manuals - all are similar in many ways.

I prefer to read several times an excerpt when I get to it to translate it the best I can (if situation requires it), than to waste my time on reading whole, which would be pointless.


[Edited at 2006-04-29 09:37]


Caryl Swift  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Polish to English
+ ...
Always Apr 29, 2006

I've learned from bitter experience that it pays to read through the text first, having in the past spent ages wrestling with an obscure sentence only to discover that it's obscurity is dispersed a few sentences or a paragraph later!

I too first make a rough draft with substitute words and highlight words/phrases for later research, but for me this process is far less painful and the work flows much more freely if I already have a general perception of the text as a whole. With a longer text, reading through also allows me to become aqcuainted with the stylistic choices that the writer has made. With a number of shorter texts (excerpts of reviews for a theatre programme, for example), reading through means that I have met the several individual 'voices' of the writers. all of which need to come through in the translation. Even when it is a matter of translating something like contracts which, as Szymon says, is a regular occurrence, I still look through them first - if only to be aware of any differences!

As an EFL teacher who for many years has been drumming into the heads of students that they should NEVER even look at the questions in a reading exercise until they have skimmed through the text to get a general idea of what it is about, how could I do otherwise myself ?!

Finally, whatever technique we use, I agree with Tim - thank heavens for word processors!


Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:46
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
No, never Apr 29, 2006

I would quite like to have had a "no, never" option instead of having to decide between "No time for this" and "What for", neither of which really sum up how I feel.

I skim read a text through before I agree to translate it, so at least I know more or less what it's about. But I am just not motivated enough to read it through before I start translating. If it's a 30,000 technical project, then yes, I don't have the time. And it's probably not rocket science either or I wouldn't have agreed to do it. And I'm going to read it all through again with a fine toothcomb anyway, so yes, what for? And if I realise later on in a document that I've misunderstood something earlier on, then I just go back there and then and change it.

I know the theory says always read it through before you start, and I've said that to the students I used to teach way back when myself (whoops!), but to be honest, my attention span wonders after a couple of minutes if I'm not actually typing away the translation at the same time and the few times in the past when I have read it through beforehand, I've got the end and thought now what was all that about?


Maria Rosich Andreu  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:46
Member (2003)
Dutch to Spanish
+ ...
quick translation first Apr 29, 2006

I translate quickly before reading the whole text, like Aurora said, without looking up any word or stopping in difficult bits (which I just mark with XXX or on the original), because I think this is a way to get the feeling of how long it will take you to translate, plus also allowing for a sort of in-depth reading of the original. I find that this way I read the text more attentively.

[Edited at 2006-04-30 18:40]


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:46
English to French
+ ...
Partially - for the sake of safety Apr 30, 2006

I always read the whole text if it is only a couple of pages long, and "samples" of it when it is longer.

When I get a text that is over a dozen pages, I analyze it with Trados and export frequent segments. I start by fixing the terminology for those segments. This way, I get the biggest part of the terminology checked and fixed - before I even start. I find it worthwhile fixing the terminology part before actually translating. What if you find a term that is hard to translate and you are on the last day of translation? You may not have enough time to find the right translation before deadline... Ugh! So, by sampling your text and determining repetitive/problematic terminology right from the start, you are more on the safe side - plus, it actually saves you a lot of time.

Other times, I use software/macros to establish the statistics for all words in the file. So, I get a list of the most repeated word and so on to the least repeated ones. I can also do this for strings of two, three, four or more words, so I can establish statistics not only for mere words, but for whole expressions. By pretranslating these strings, often, you avoid being stuck in the last hours, trying to desperately find the right words. You get to establish priorities for terms - and this helps you avoid having to go back and search for parts you want to translate in a different way, as others have suggested.

Needless to say, another huge advantage of reading before translating is that you can ascertain that you have what it takes to translate this text. I have seen cases where the translator was specialized in the subject matter to be translated, yet still could not do a good job because of a poor source copy or because of some dated expressions in the source copy, or simply because of poor source style. In such cases, it shouldn't be the translator's fault - but the client should be aware of this in due time also.

So, by reading fully or partially beforehand, you put all the chances on your side to make that client happy AND you make your work easier and boost your speed.

[Edited at 2006-04-30 17:49]


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