Tips for good translators and cheap translators
Thread poster: Telesforo Fernandez
Telesforo Fernandez
Local time: 05:41
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dec 9, 2001

I would like to express my thanks to the owner of the following site from where this article has been taken:


The following criteria were developed some years ago by a U.S. Government agency for determining the skill level of a potential translator whom that agency might have liked to hire. You may want to read this chapter carefully to try to make an honest determination as to where on this scale you find yourself at this time. If you are below Level 2+, you need to keep practicing. If you are at Level 3 or higher, you can start doing some professional translating. After Level 4 you are ready for some serious translating, and at Level 5 you can start making a living as a translator.

Translator Skill Levels

Level 0

No functional ability to translate the language. Consistently misunderstanding or cannot comprehend at all.

Level 0+

Can translate all or some place names (i.e., street or city designations), corporate names, numbers and isolated words and phrases, often translating these inaccurately. In rendering translations, writes using only memorized material and set expressions. Spelling and representation of symbols (letters, syllables, characters) are frequently incorrect.

Level 1

Sufficient skill to translate the simplest connected written material in a form equivalent to usual printing or typescript. Can translate either representations of familiar formulaic verbal exchanges or simple language containing only the highest-frequency grammatical patterns and vocabulary items, including cognates when ap-propriate. Translated texts include simple narratives of routine behavior; concrete descriptions of persons, places and things; and explanations of geography and government such as those simplified for tourists. Mistranslations common.

In rendering translations, writes in simple sentences (or clauses), making continual errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, but translation can be read and understood by a native reader used to dealing with foreigners attempting to translate his/her language.

Level 1+

Sufficient skill to translate simple discourse for informative social purposes in printed form. Can translate material such as announcements or public events, popular advertising notes containing biographical information or narration of events and straightforward newspaper headlines. Has some difficulty with the

A few years ago, when President Carter went to Poland, he said to an audience, \"I love you.\" His American-Polish interpreter translated it as \"I lust after you,\" which elicited loud laughter from the audience. The reason for the mistranslation: The hapless linguist had been away from his native land for over 20 years, during which time some basic Polish expressions had changed.

In rendering translations, writing shows good control of elementary vocabulary and some control of basic syntactic patterns, but major errors still occur when expressing more complex thoughts. Dictionary usage may still yield incorrect vocabulary of forms, although can use a dictionary to advantage to translate simple ideas. Translations, though faulty, are comprehensible to native readers used to dealing with foreigners.

Level 2

Sufficient skill to translate simple authentic written material in a form equivalent to usual printing. Can translate uncomplicated, but authentic prose on familiar subjects that are normally present in a predictable sequence, which aids the translator in his/her work. Texts may include description and narration in context, such as news items describing frequently occurring events, simple biographical information, social notices, formatted business letters and simple technical material written for the general reader. The prose is predominantly in familiar sentence patterns. Some mistranslations.

In rendering translations, has written vocabulary sufficient to perform simple translations with some circumlocutions. Still makes common errors in spelling and punctuation, but shows some control of the most common formats and punctuation conventions. Good control of morphology of language (in inflected languages) and of the most frequently used syntactic structures. Elementary constructions are usually handled quite accurately, and translations are understandable to a native reader not used to reading the translations of foreigners.

Level 2+

Sufficient skill to translate most factual material in non-technical prose as well as some discussions on concrete topics related to special professional interests. Has begun to make sensible guesses about unfamiliar words by using linguistic context and prior knowledge. May react personally to material, but does not yet detect subjective attitudes, values or judgments in the material to be translated.

In rendering translations, often shows surprising fluency and ease of expression, but under time constraints and pressure language may be inaccurate and/or incomprehensible. Generally strong in either grammar or vocabulary, but not in both. Weaknesses or unevenness in one of the foregoing or in spelling results in occasional mistranslations. Areas of weakness range from simple constructions, such as plurals, articles, prepositions and negatives, to more complex structures, word order and relative clauses. Normally controls general vocabulary, with some misuse of everyday vocabulary still evident. Shows a limited ability to use circumlocutions. Uses dictionary to advantage to supply unknown words. Translations are understandable to native readers not used to dealing with foreigner’s attempts to translate the language, though style is obviously foreign.

Level 3

Able to translate authentic prose on unfamiliar subjects. Translating ability is not dependent on subject matter knowledge. Texts will include news stories similar to wire service reports, routine correspondence, general reports and technical material in his/her professional field, all of which include hypothesis, argumentation and supported opinions. Such texts typically include grammatical patterns and vocabulary ordinarily encountered in professional reading. Mistranslations rare. Almost always able to correctly translate material, relate ideas and make inferences. Rarely has to pause over or reread general vocabulary. However, may experience some difficulty with unusually complex structures and low-frequency idioms.

In preparing translations, control of structure, spelling, and general vocabulary is adequate to convey his/her message accurately, but style may be obviously foreign. Errors virtually never interfere with comprehension and rarely disturb the native reader. Punctuation generally controlled. Employs a full range of structures. Control of grammar good, with only sporadic errors in basic structures, occasional errors in the most complex frequent structures and somewhat more frequent errors in low-frequency complex structures. Consistent control of compound and complex sentences. Relationship of ideas presented in original material is consistently clear.

Level 3+

Increased ability to translate a variety of styles and forms of language pertinent to professional needs. Rarely mistranslates such texts or rarely experiences difficulty relating ideas or making inferences. Ability to comprehend many socio-linguistic and cultural references. However, may miss some nuances and subtleties. Increased ability to translate unusually complex structures and low-frequency idioms; however, accuracy is not complete.

In rendering translations, able to write the language in a few prose styles pertinent to professional/educational needs. Not always able to tailor language to suit original material. Weaknesses may lie in poor control of low-frequency, complex structures, vocabulary or the ability to express subtleties and nuances.

Level 4

Able to translate fluently and accurately all styles and forms of the language pertinent to professional needs. Can translate more difficult prose and follow unpredictable turns of thought readily in any area directed to the general reader and all materials in his/her own special field, including official and professional documents and correspondence. Able to translate precise and extensive vocabulary, including nuances and subtleties, and recognize all professionally relevant vocabulary known to the educated nonprofessional native, although may have some difficulty with slang. Can translate reasonably legible handwriting without difficulty. Understands almost all socio-linguistic and cultural references.

In rendering translations, able to write the language precisely and accurately in a variety of prose styles pertinent to professional/ educational needs. Errors of grammar are rare, including those in low-frequency complex structures. Consistently able to tailor language to suit material and able to express subtleties and nuances.

Level 4+

Increased ability to translate extremely difficult or abstract prose. Increased ability to translate a variety of vocabulary, idioms, colloquialisms and slang. Strong sensitivity to socio-linguistic and cultural references. Increased ability to translate less than fully legible handwriting. Accuracy is close to that of an educated translator, but still not equivalent.

In rendering translations, able to write the language precisely and accurately, in a wide variety of prose styles pertinent to professional/educational needs.

Level 5

Can translate extremely difficult and abstract prose (i.e., legal, technical), as well as highly colloquial writings and the literary forms of the language. Translates a wide variety of vocabulary and idioms, colloquialisms, slang and pertinent cultural references. With varying degrees of difficulty, can translate all kinds of handwritten documents. Able to understand how natives think as they produce a text. Accuracy is equivalent to that of a well-educated translator.

In rendering translations, has writing proficiency equal to that of a well-educated native. Without nonnative errors of structure, spelling, style or vocabulary, can translate both formal and informal correspondence, official reports and documents and professional/educational articles, including writing for special purposes which might include legal, technical, educational, literary and colloquial writing.

Levels of Translation

Keep in mind that not all translation is done on the same level. Be sure to find out before you start a translation assignment whether it needs to be merely a rough draft, or a fully correct translation for in-house use, or actually ready for publication.

[ This Message was edited by: on 2001-12-09 16:21 ]

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xxxPaul Roige
Local time: 02:11
English to Spanish
+ ...
hum, so there's where we are... Dec 9, 2001

Very interesting. Thank you! Paul

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Carole Muller
Local time: 02:11
English to French
+ ...
Yes... Dec 10, 2001

Thanks it\'s really a series of interesting articles, I went and read the others.

But and having read your other postings; I think cheap translators exist and survice in the wake of cheap clients and even a good agency will be tempted and degrade standards when they see that some clients don\'t care or make problems of an absurd kind and that the agency to expand (and keep others down) needs to increase its gap between client pricing rates and what they give the translator.

Can I give you one fun example? Last year I did some major work for a very larg client.This client had had problems with ALL their translators ever and had tried ALL the agencies they could. They finally got to a small agency which I was happy to work with(they were decent and charged only 10 %). The client selected me from a choice of 4-5 other translators after a test because (1) I was the only one who did the test to their liking and (2) they wanted sombody who was also an economist to do the job, because to their mind ALL the other translators had been BAD, mainly rendering text in the target language in such a prose that was not readable.Or the translator could not finish the work, or the translator had run away and disappeared, or the translator could not udnerstand the source text.

True, the source texts were \"heavy\" and loaded with challenges on each page.

I managed though and delivered work nr.1, a very large report, and felt it went well. The client was delighted, it was first time they had something they like and on time.

So, from the same organisation, another department called me and wanted to have their work translated to, another major work, some 80 pages etc...

I did the same, only this time the source text was even worse. The professional complexity was less challenging, but the author was adjectives seem to fit without sounding superior. Believe me, the author was.....

Upon delivery, I sent the work to the head of the department, through whose office the order had transited and they were going to forward to the department actually requiring the work. There, the office was managed by a journalist(Press Relations) and I was told, it was great.

So, I wait, one week, 2,3,4,5,6...No word coming from them and payment!

finally and to cut a long story short, the guy of the agency calls, writes etc... the department who had finally received the work refused to pay: the translation (into English)did not look like they had expexted. After many, many lengthy conversations they come up with this: they wanted to keep the many short sentences they had had, regardless of the fact that the style was miserable kind of \"telegram\" style and many, many sentencs with no verb at all or starting with \"But\" or \"And, like: \"XXX has decreased throughout the 1990\'s. And Z, dcrease and increase then decrease, so decrease\". But not always. Not. Decrease but increase, but increase but decrease. But sometimes different.\"

I swear, 80 pages of that, with a lengthy prologue written by a V.I.P, stating how unique this study was. The study was full of simple arithmetic mistakes like: \"When calculating the age of retirees, you take all the retirees and all the ages, and you divide the retirees with the ages\" (by the way the style of the report, mind you).

So back to me and my client not wanting to pay. I offer to rewrite whatever they did not like for free if only they will annotate or mark the passages. They say OK. Again one week,2,3,4 weeks are passing, no answer.

Finally I get the entire 80 pages back. On page 30 something I had translated something referring to the contents of something: \"Contents are made of....\"

The page was marked with red and underlined: No,No, No: \"Contents is made of\"

and also the first page of the report mentioning who had been participating should have been placed as page 2 (but was page 1 in the source text).

...and based on that the client did not pay nor contact the agency/me for 8 WEEKS.

I suggested they switch page 2 with 1 in the word document they had made the remarks on and I suggested that it is still \"Contents are\"... Big discussion and the client(actually only this particular lady) got mad for being \"told\" and still did not want to pay.

Meanwhile: the report is online and published. The client made an abstract, the language of which is so bad and embarrassing I can never ever say I translate the report less potential clients or partners may think I also wrote the creative abstract. IT\'s sooooo embarrassingly written, you have no idea. It\'s not only a problem of wording and syntax, it\'s the personality behind, boasting of this organisation, presenting the report as an invetion worthy of the Nobel prize and all of it in the TARGET txt, the source text is not that pretentious. Clearly somebody overthere thinks they asmter English sooooooo well, they know better than translator.

And if this is the person I have in mind, do you really, really think they\'ll see the difference when-not if- they get somebody who is smart enough to sell them what they want (to be right mainly) and mind you at a \"bargain price\". Or if they go to an agency adn the agency feels here\'s aclient that cannot tell the difference who is ethically to be blamed: the translator who might well be advised to progress some more before practising on clients, the agency wanted to make big bucks to beat the competitors out of the market with flashy adds, or the pretentious client?

That\'s why I personally believe \"cheap\" translators\" do not exist as an isolated phenomenon, but that the root is somewhere else.

Otherwise thanks for the link, it\'s good!


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