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Editing texts by non-native speakers: is there any literature?
Thread poster: Diane Grosklaus Whitty

Diane Grosklaus Whitty  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:24
Member (2006)
Portuguese to English
Mar 26, 2010

As translators, we are often asked to edit texts written by someone whose native language is our source language. For example, I do Portuguese>English and was just asked to edit a text written by a Brazilian.

My current policy is to refuse such jobs, because (1) they often take more time than the actual translation would have taken; (2) you are never certain you have caught all the mistakes, since a relatively intact sentence, in grammatical terms, may in fact not be communicating the author's idea; and (3), let's be honest, I hate this kind of work, and who doesn't (speak up if you love it; haven't met anyone yet).

I'm wondering if there is any literature out there that backs up my second reason for not doing this work. Or any literature at all on this topic.

Thanks in advance for any input.


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 12:24
English
+ ...
Actually, editing texts of non-native English speakers is one of my specialties . . . Mar 26, 2010

but, sorry, I don't know of any literature on the subject.

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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:24
English to Croatian
+ ...
Literature? Mar 26, 2010

No, not specific literature, but let's say studying grammar and language learning processes of both source and target language would help. Mistakes are often typical, they have their categories, repetition rates, etc.

You put it well, that kind of job is known as "toilet cleaning" in our internal translator's circles. Unfortunately, even some native speakers produce horrible unadapted translations.

Also beware of the agencies that will ask you for your editing rate upfront. As you said, it often takes 3x more time ( and work) than the translation, because you are doing several jobs: reviewing, editing, making comments, mistake categorization + often a research to make sure the terminology is correct. That is four jobs they are asking you to do at a typically small rate ( in any case, always much smaller than the translation rate, although I will never understand why since it takes more time and work than the translation).

I only take these jobs if I'm offered a decent hourly rate, and I am asked to report my hourly workload upon completion, rather than having them tell me upfront how many hours it will take me to complete the job (hello?). If they are looking for a cheap text polisher, they may look elsewhere.


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 12:24
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
And I'm that person you've never met! Mar 26, 2010

I quite enjoy correcting such texts, actually, and like Suzan find that it has become a speciality. The difficulty is to stop yourself thinking "Google English" and letting a non-native phrase through.

I find that as a change from "straight" translation/proofreading, these sort of texts provide a different sort of intellectual exercise. They often have a certain amusement value, too! Although I think it's probably the sort of work you shouldn't do if you don't get any sort of enjoyment from it.

I can't imagine that there's any literature on the subject, though I'd be fascinated to read it if there is. (There's a topic for a ProZ article...)


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My speciality, too Mar 26, 2010

I've been an EFL trainer for the last 12 years, so I know exactly what learners of English can do with an assortment of English words! Some seem to throw them all up in the air to see how they fall!icon_confused.gif

Students who are preparing for business English exams need to write letters, so there's lots of correction involved, and teaching in the workplace centres around the student's own texts (emails, leaflets, brochures, websites etc) - at least my lessons do.:-) Having done it for so long as a trainer, it was only natural to offer the same service as a translator.

By the way, when I talk about non-natives, I mean those for whom the language is really a "foreign" one, not those few who are highly competent users of a language that they do not specify as their native language - I would qualify those as near-native or native-equivalent. icon_smile.gif

So, why do so many translators hate proofreading non-native texts? Here's my view on it.

For a start, dealing with a non-native text rarely qualifies as proofreading. Suzan Hamer has already contributed to this thread - see her profile for a really neat explanation of the differences between proofreading and editing.

Most translators have either a "rate per word for proofreading", or a "rate per hour for proofreading" (or both). Then some accept texts at that rate without first examining them. If it's a native text, already checked for grammar and spelling mistakes, that's fine whether the quote is per word or per hour - everyone's satisfied. However, if it turns out to have been written by a non-native speaker then the translator is going to lose out big-time (or perhaps the client is). If it's on a per word basis, the translator is going to find that they are doing it almost "pro bono" - perhaps managing 300 wph for a rate that is only suitable for 3,000 wph. If it's on a per-hour basis, is the client really going to be prepared to pay out for 10 hours for a little 3,000-word text?

So, it needs to be classed as editing, and you simply can't give a sensible quote for it until you've seen a good sample. Bear in mind that a non-native speaker will have to consult a dictionary every few words, so make sure you get a sample that includes text from near the end - they'll often have given up by that time and it may be virtually unrecognisable!

As Janed says, if you like doing that sort of thing, it can be amusing - if you don't, or if you don't give the correct quote, it can be a costly nightmare.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:24
English to Croatian
+ ...
Costly for you, cheap for the agency. Mar 26, 2010

Yes, I agree, the job is interesting from the linguistic point of view. I've done linguistic revisions involving estimation of nonnative mistake repetition rates, measuring structural differences, measuring productivity of language or orthography software's, etc. I've been paid very rewarding rates, so I did enjoy the job. I don't do this kind of expert things for fun, so the payment does matter big time. I'm putting my signature on the productivity revision, after all.

However, some agencies give you disastrous texts and want you to fix them for a small price. Unacceptable by all means.

English is not your source, but imagine being given a nonnative English text as your source. Happened to me several times. This kind of work has more layers than onion, believe me (and the rate they offer is ridiculous).


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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 12:24
English
+ ...
Thanks, Sheila, Mar 26, 2010

for mentioning my profile. Recently in another thread, Jeff Whitakker referred to EN-15038, which apparently distinguishes proofreading ("checking of proofs before publication") from revision ("comparing original and translated document"), and reviewing ("just a check of the translation to ensure it suits purpose"). These definitions are bit different from mine.

ProZ.com may not feel it right to set rates, but it would be wonderful, I think, if perhaps they would take a shot at setting a uniform standard for proofreading, editing, revision, reviewing . . . Or perhaps we, as the ProZ community could set a standard definition to which we could all refer, and refer clients to.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked to "proofread" a text when it really needed in-depth editing.

Regarding your tip to get a sample from near the end of a text, I have also read that it's a good idea to ask for a sample (of a text for translation as well as for editing or proofreading) from the middle and from the end of a text. The first few pages of a text are often much better than the rest of the text, having been read over and worked on more often than the rest of the text. In my experience, that seems to be true.

By the way, it seems that most often people refer to the work I do as "fixing the English." "Could you fix the English in my dissertation?" My daughter calls me an "English repair woman". I often think of it as translating english into English, or Rumplestiltskining (turning straw into gold)....Should that be Rumplestiltskinning? I've never written the word before...

[Edited at 2010-03-26 20:27 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-03-26 22:50 GMT]


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urbom
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:24
German to English
+ ...
Some literature, then... Mar 26, 2010

I have a couple of books on my shelf that address the issue of translation into a non-native language.

Stuart Campbell, Translation into the Second Language. Published by Longman, 1998. ISBN 0-582-30188-2

Basil Hatim, Teaching and Researching Translation. Published by Longman, 2001. ISBN 0-582-32899-3 (note that this is a more general book than the first one -- but there is a chapter on "Translation into the foreign language"). Parts of this one are available on Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=2kUK3iJIgaYC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Both of these books contain substantial bibliographies that could help you find further literature on the subject.

There are other books and articles around, too:
Meta Grosman, Mira Kadric, Irena Kovacic, Mary Snell-Hornby (eds.), Translation into Non-Mother Tongues in Professional Practice and Training
http://www.stauffenburg.de/asp/books.asp?id=185

There is a chapter entitled "Teaching translation into a foreign language - status, scope and aims" in the book Teaching Translation and Interpreting vol. 1. Training Talent and Experience. Papers from the First Language International Conference, Elsinore, Denmark, 1991 (edited by Cay Dollerup and Anne Loddegaard)
http://www.benjamins.nl/cgi-bin/t_bookview.cgi?bookid=Z%2056
(Warning: sticker shock! Probably best to look for this one in a university library.)

I am sure that an internet search would turn up even more sources.
==========================

If anyone is looking for a good reference to cite (when dealing with a difficult client, perhaps...) in support of the viewpoint that translators should stick to translating into their mother tongue, UNESCO adopted a Recommendation on the Legal Protection of Translators and Translations and the Practical Means to improve the Status of Translators in 1976.

It’s available in all of the official languages of the UN at http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13089&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

Section 14 reads:
14. With a view to improving the quality of translations, the following principles and practical measures should be expressly recognized in professional statutes mentioned under sub-paragraph 7(a) and in any other written -agreements between the translators and the users:
[...]
(d) a translator should, as far as possible, translate into his own mother tongue or into a language of which he or she has a mastery equal to that of his or her mother tongue.



[Edited at 2010-03-26 20:38 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:24
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Another "Ms. Fixit" Mar 26, 2010

Suzan Hamer wrote:
My daughter calls me an "English repair woman"
I often think of it as translating english into English
or Rumplestilskining (turning straw into gold)


(Yes, I think that would have to have two "n"s):-) Really nice definitions of this type of work which, as Lingua 5B says, "has more layers than onion". I help French jobseekers with their CVs in English and I get soooo fed up telling them how unlikely they are to get the job even though they are "fluent in english".

Recently in another thread, Jeff Whitakker referred to EN-15038, which apparently distinguishes proofreading ("checking of proofs before publication") from revision ("comparing original and translated document"), and reviewing ("just a check of the translation to ensure it suits purpose"). These definitions are bit different from mine.


That's true. But these standards expect a translator to receive texts translated by a competent speaker of the target language. If only!icon_smile.gif As we all know only too well, sometimes they have been translated by machines, sometimes by someone with a really low level in the target language (often a native speaker of the source language doing his/her best) and sometimes they haven't been translated at all! I imagine this happens much more with English texts than any other language - after all, millions of people all around the world "get by" in English, so why not write in it? In the latter case there is, and never has been, a "source" text.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked to "proofread" a text when it really needed in-depth editing.


SNAP! Does the client even have an idea of the quality (or lack thereof)?

@ Diana. You see, there are a few of us out here willing to take on these jobs - but at a price. I did read about a couple of books a while back in a ProZ forum thread, but I've lost it now. Anyway, I guess it's more of a "gut" thing, really. Love it or hate it!


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:24
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
To urbom Mar 27, 2010

Thank you for your very relevant answer to the topic.
Would you consider entering some of the books and references you mention in the resources section please?

http://www.proz.com/references

(Under the Terminology tab on the Proz.com main page, Dictionaries & References)

I shall certainly try to get hold of some of them.

icon_smile.gif


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Jennifer Barnett  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:24
Dutch to English
+ ...
I like editing and proof-reading... Mar 27, 2010

...perhaps because I was once an English teacher.

I continue to be amazed about our inability to perform these processes on our (good writers) own work - at least when it is still fresh in the mind. Before we can assess own work objectively, it probably has to decay out of our memory bank to some extent. If there is an expanation of how blind spots occur and how to unblind them, I would love to hear it.

I greatly appreciate the information in this discussion, especially that on Susan's profile. It has all inspired me to be more strict in determining what the client really wants and really requires in these matters when they present a 'correction' request. The information supplied here will certainly help.

Like it or not, Google Translate will no doubt result in more 'correction' work requests so it's good to get it sorted now.


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Jean-Louis Zambou  Identity Verified
Cameroon
Local time: 11:24
English to French
+ ...
Only ladies? Mar 27, 2010

Waooo !!! Ladies appear to be more sensitive on this issue of "Editing Texts by non-native Speakers" than men. At this juncture of the exchange, only ladies have spoken. Well, to my humble opinion, the exercice is part and parcel of translation industry, hence, i as a translator, i do enhance my aptitutude in editing, each time i am given the opportunity. At the end, it makes one get back to some linguistic fundamentals usually taken for granted. Editing? yes !
Jean-Louis.


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Diane Grosklaus Whitty  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:24
Member (2006)
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks to all who posted Mar 30, 2010

I apologize for posting and then disappearing. Life got between me and my computer. I was pleased to return and find such thoughtful comments. Thanks to all.

For those jumping into this stream now and just skimming, please note that my original question was strictly about editing texts written by non-native speakers, not about editing another translator’s work— “editing” as indeed so nicely distinguished from “proofing” by Suzan Hamer.

The reason I was curious about possible literature is that I do translations for a Brazilian academic journal that accepts submissions in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. In the latter case, the papers are often written by Brazilians who are far from classifiable as near-native. I’ve explained my position on editing to the journal’s editors, but I want them to understand the risks of having anyone edit these texts.

Literature aside, the fact that three of you (Suzan Hamer, janed, and Sheila Wilson) use the term “specialty” speaks for itself: I need to reiterate to my client that they need to hire someone specialized to take on this task.

Lastly:

jiomeneck wrote:

Waooo !!! Ladies appear to be more sensitive on this issue of "Editing Texts by non-native Speakers" than men. At this juncture of the exchange, only ladies have spoken.


Indeed! As they say, “What’s up with that?!”


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Diane Grosklaus Whitty  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:24
Member (2006)
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Distancing yourself from mistakes Mar 30, 2010

janed wrote:

The difficulty is to stop yourself thinking "Google English" and letting a non-native phrase through.


This is one phenomenon that I wonder if anyone has researched: once it’s in black and white, it’s hard to tease out the mistakes of a purely non-grammatical/syntactical nature. We even have problems distancing ourselves from our own work, on the first, second, etc. round of corrections. In a way, it applies to editing in general, but editing a text by a non-native speaker adds another layer to the onion, to borrow Lingua B5’s image.

janed wrote:

I find that as a change from "straight" translation/proofreading, these sort of texts provide a different sort of intellectual exercise.


What’s “toilet-cleaning” for one is an “intellectual exercise” for another. I’ve always been keenly aware of interpreter versus translation personality differences, but obviously you can’t throw all of us translators into one basket either.


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Diane Grosklaus Whitty  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:24
Member (2006)
Portuguese to English
TOPIC STARTER
More on distancing (and apologies for multiple posts) Mar 30, 2010

Jennifer Barnett wrote:

I continue to be amazed about our inability to perform these processes on our (good writers) own work - at least when it is still fresh in the mind. Before we can assess own work objectively, it probably has to decay out of our memory bank to some extent. If there is an expanation of how blind spots occur and how to unblind them, I would love to hear it.


Add me to the list of those wanting to hear explanations and, even more importantly, how to “unblind” the blind spots. This might be worth another thread: what ‘tricks’ do we use to gain distance from a text, before tackling it post-scratch version? So far, time seems to be the only effective mechanism, preferably time spent working on something else, but how often can a translator afford that?

Last note: I apologize for 3 separate posts, but I'm new to forums and am having trouble with the mechanics.


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