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Quality of translations (or lack thereof)
Thread poster: Sylvain Meyrous
Sylvain Meyrous  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 00:47
English to French
Jul 22, 2008

Hello,

I have been proofreading for about two years, mostly for Canadian companies. So far, I have found most work to be of appalling quality. In one company, the policy was to push translators to work about ten times as fast as they should, which accounted for the poor quality of the work.

But still, most of the jobs I proofread showcase a very insufficient understanding of the source language (English) and a very poor command of the target language (French). I find myself correcting basic grammar, English 101-level errors, i.e. "I have been doing this for 4 years" - "j'ai fait cela depuis 4 ans", non-French sentence structure, gross misunderstandings, inexact if not completely wrong adjectives, etc.

What baffles me is that the end result is not idiomatic at all. Several people I showed texts to told me they seemed to have been written by a bad speaker of French as a second language. The odd thing is that this should be obvious upon reading the text. You can literally guess the English through the French. In addition, cultural references are ALWAYS missed, which would not surprise me if I did not know that the translators actually live and have been living in English-speaking Canada for years.

I had to stop working with an agency because they told me that I should send the work back to the translator if it was sub-standard. I said I would have to send everything back... I find myself re-translating all the time.

Even worse is the fact that most clients seem perfectly happy with work that barely passes the mark. Some even send the work back with "corrections", asking for all the anglicisms that I took out to be put back in the document... This is extremely disappointing, as it makes me question the usefulness of my work.

Do you think that this is a Canadian problem only due to the influence of English on French, or is it worldwide? What do you think the reason is? Insufficient time allowed? Low rates?


Have a great day!

-Sylvain


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 06:47
English to German
+ ...
Do you think it is done by humans... Jul 22, 2008

Hi! My guess is, it could be machine translation. I do understand some french but am careful with the usage. This sounds like a first or second level at a french language school and could also be MT. BR Brandis

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I agree Jul 22, 2008

I have similar experience working with Italian and English. The problem seems to be the worldwide "return to illiteracy" that has been widely noted.

It doesn't bother me too much. A literate translator will always get more work than a semi-literate one !

What does bother me is that clients may be commissioning translations into other languages with which they themselves are not familiar. They trust their translator to do a good job but if the translator is illiterate, this could be very bad for their business.


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xxxPeter Manda
Local time: 00:47
German to English
+ ...
it's CAT Jul 22, 2008

I agree with Brandis; I think it's machine translation. I've seen the same with German - English - which is why I'm very wary of proofreading jobs now.

I think there are a growing bunch out there who see "CAT" only as their way of making a quick buck. It's a great sucker-punch: The agency/company insisting on a CAT program (no, no I don't want to use the word TRADOS) jump for joy because they get to save a few pennies; and the person "using" the CAT, spends five minutes having the CAT rake in the bucks.

Penny wise, dollar foolish.


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Margreet Logmans  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:47
English to Dutch
+ ...
Confidence & haste Jul 22, 2008

I think translators who (are forced to) work fast don't take the time to - I don't really know how to call this - 'distance' themselves from the source text.
Beginning translators lack the confidence to do so.

What I mean is, that you have to take the time to think: How would I say this if I was writing this text myself? Rather than: did I translate all the words correctly?

An example I see time and time again in Dutch subtitling is 'armored vehicle'.
'armored' means: protected with plating, or whatever, but it can also mean 'bearing arms/weapons'. Of course an armored vehicle is protected - in Dutch: gepantserd, pantser. But half of all the subtitles I see where 'armored vehicle' has been translated, the translation is: gewapend voertuig, which means: vehicle with weapons, armed vehicle. Translation of words, not of meaning.

This understanding of the fact that source and target are not just different words, but a different language is what makes a good translator, IMHO.

This, and the influence of (badly translated) English are the reasons for the type of trouble you mention, if you ask me. And it's definitely not a uniquely Canadian problem.


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Sylvain Meyrous  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 00:47
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Not machine translation Jul 22, 2008



I agree with Brandis; I think it's machine translation. I've seen the same with German - English - which is why I'm very wary of proofreading jobs now.


I know for a fact it is not machine translation. This is what is so scary.

Here is an example of a typical mistake in ingredients lists:
EN preservatives
FR préservatifs (this means "condoms")


In a business context:
EN seasoned professional
FR professionnels assaisonnés ("asaisonné" would be correct in a recipe, where it means "with salt, pepper and other spices added")

These are funny the first few times. However, the fiftieth time around, you feel like shooting yourself in the head!


I agree with Tom that we are in an age of return to illiteracy. How many times do I receive marketing material that I have no idea how to translate because it is empty of meaning? Unfortunately, I have found out that it is a general tendency. Illiteracy is found all the way up the corporate ladder. Several times now, I've had to be extremely creative with letters from CEO's to their employees, in order to create meaning out of disastrous grammar, poor vocabulary and confused thoughts.
The state of written expression in French is no better. There are only a handful of French-schooled persons I know who can write properly. Internet forums in French, with the notable exception of this one, are so full of spelling errors that it takes a complete mental re-writing to understand anything.

Here is a funny anecdote: in grammar school, when I was around 10, I used to proofread my teacher. He could not write a sentence without at least two or three spelling errors. He had to ask me to stop correcting him, because otherwise, he "would not have been able to finish the lesson".

The official guidelines from the Ministry of Education when I was in high school was to "use positive marking", meaning not take into account language errors in anything. This seems to be the overall attitude everywhere now...


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Laurie Price  Identity Verified
Mexico
Spanish to English
+ ...
not a uniquely Canadian problem Jul 22, 2008

I heartily agree with everyone -- it's not something local. I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding.
I also proofread, in addition to doing translation. I get to see the problem from both sides:
I make a translation, for example, from Spanish to English, for someone who knows some English -- enough to communicate socially though not enough to accurately express something subtle or academic.
The text I'm given to translate isn't all that well-written, although I understand what it says, and what the author wants to convey, and to whom. So I translate this text, filling in some of its omissions, and produce a text that reads as if it were written in English.
But the client wants the wording as he had it in Spanish: he wants the clunky sentence constructions, grammatically confusing syntax and ambiguous language that I'd purposely eliminated.
It doesn't matter that in English, these constructions are awkward, or that they render the text unprofessional or that they make it sound as if it'd been written by a non-native English speaker.
This is what the client was able to imagine in English, and this is what he wants.

Many times these are the kinds of errors I encounter in docs I've been asked to work on as a proofreader. And many times, the problem is that the target language wasn't the translator's native language.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:47
French to English
+ ...
... Jul 22, 2008

Peter Manda wrote:

I agree with Brandis; I think it's machine translation. I've seen the same with German - English - which is why I'm very wary of proofreading jobs now.

I think there are a growing bunch out there who see "CAT" only as their way of making a quick buck. It's a great sucker-punch: The agency/company insisting on a CAT program (no, no I don't want to use the word TRADOS) jump for joy because they get to save a few pennies; and the person "using" the CAT, spends five minutes having the CAT rake in the bucks.

Penny wise, dollar foolish.


Peter, your words betray the fact that you do not know the difference between machine translation and computer-aided translation (CAT). Alternatively, if you do know the difference, you didn't express yourself very clearly.

Sylvain, there are companies out there that are concerned with quality in translation, and it's worth spending some time looking for them.


[Edited at 2008-07-23 08:22]


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:47
Italian to English
+ ...
It's not just Canada Jul 22, 2008

Most of the translations I've been sent for revision (Italian - English) have been pretty poor too. Most of the time they're just clunky and obvious translations - over-literal renditions of the original text - which make me wince but don't cause any real harm. However, a file (summary of product characteristics for a diagnostic product) that recently landed on my desk had been dangerously mistranslated. For example, a sentence in the original said "in the case of [certain condition], additional quantities of this product will cause [certain effect]". This had been translated as "insufficient quantities of this product will cause [certain effect]"
I had to go through the damn thing with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I got all the howlers like that out of it.


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 06:47
Member
English to French
Poor human translations and non-reviewed machine translations are easy to spot Jul 22, 2008

Some of the Microsoft KB articles are machine-translated in FR, and it is a different nonsense than a poor human translation by a native speaker.
I also do some editing EN>FR for a few European agencies, and though hardly "perfect" (I don't make translations "perfect" either, mind you, too humble for that), I rarely get the kind of appalling mistranslations you state - kudos to the preservatives one -, even though I do come across idiomatic expressions misunderstood/misinterpreted and sentences too close to the source. I typically process more than 1200 words an hour, sometimes I even almost enjoy the job (I am paid by the hour and gave up on editing and being paid by the word) when the subject matter is of interest.

To brighten the thread, I therefore feel there are still decent writers around, with an actual experience in their fields, who I assume favour proper agencies and don't come very cheap (even though they often work with CAT tools in technical translation).

Now it might well be your customers' policy to get a poor (ie bad) and cheap translator to translate and a good reviewer to rewrite the output. It may come out cheaper for them. The point is: are you paid for the actual value you add to the product? If so, you're paid to rewrite poor translations...

Good luck,
Philippe


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