Do readers laugh at your translations?
Thread poster: Richard Bartholomew

Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:36
Member (2007)
German to English
Aug 3, 2008

Sooner or later your translation is probably going to land on the desk of someone with intimate working knowledge of its context and vocabulary. If your translation is reasonably good, that reader will understand what the document's author is communicating.

You haven't been working in that reader's environment for the past twenty years, so you won't express things quite like (s)he or one of her or his colleagues would. How often do you think readers burst out laughing, or at least shake their heads, when they read what you've written? Does this possibility bother you?

P. S. The proofreader or editor probably isn't one of the reader's colleagues either.


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 16:36
English to Norwegian
+ ...
No... Aug 3, 2008

The thought of someone finding it funny does not bother me at all.
The thought of possibly making a mistake that could lead to misunderstandings with serious consequenses bothers me a whole lot more.
Laughing is good for you
Besides, my name is not published alongside the ridiculous translation, is it?

I think one should not take on translation on subjects one has no knowledge of. Making the occasional (funny?) mistake is probably unavoidable, however.


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Capesha  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:36
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Never over-estimate your own skills Aug 3, 2008

Hilde Granlund wrote:

I think one should not take on translation on subjects one has no knowledge of. Making the occasional (funny?) mistake is probably unavoidable, however.


That's it
I only can provide a good translation when I am able to understand the procedure / subject, which I am translating. If there is anything, which I do not understand, I do some research - or better, I ask the customer for an explanation. This ensures that the end-user / reader may laugh about a little, silly mistake, but will not burst into tears when reading my translation


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 16:36
English to German
+ ...
if the translation is meant to laugh at... Aug 3, 2008

Hi! then the goal has been achieved, they will laugh at it. Funny source text and equally funny target translation. BR Brandis

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Marcus Geibel
Germany
Local time: 16:36
English to German
I remember one such case Aug 3, 2008

- some 10 years ago, and the customer actually did not laugh but was entirely upset with my "bad" translation. He was an engineer, responsible for the product in Germany, but native English. He completely refused my translation and changed it (or had it changed) all over as in his opinion it had to be for the German market. The problem was: Nothing - and I mean nothing - of his changes was to be found in the original source text!! He had made up an all new German original.

I don't know wether he paid for the translation, this had to be settled by my then boss - but I had a good laugh!


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 16:36
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
a laugh, that gets stuck in your throat Aug 3, 2008

I had to proofread the following sentence (context: security doors, to be closed during the operation, otherwise serious damage, danger for human lives etc)

intention of the sentence: "Warning! The doors are opened!"
Translation: "Warning! Open the doors!"


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Regina Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:36
Member (2007)
English to German
+ ...
it happens Aug 3, 2008

I guess sometimes proofreaders do spot things you would have never noticed yourself, but that's why a second pair of eyes are a great thing.

That brings back some memories from uni, where we had some interpreting classes as well and once we had to interpret a text about Nelson Mandela, which was originally an address to a selected audience, including the very man.
In the German version it said "schon vor langer Zeit hat man versucht, Sie hinter Gitter zu bringen", which referred to the fact that, long before Mr. Mandela was actually imprisoned, the apartheid government had tried to do so various times.
One of my classmates stood up with her notes, cleared her throat and said: "Mr. Mandela, you should have been locked away long ago."
That's one of the reasons I prefer to be a translator. lol.

[Edited at 2008-08-03 23:11]


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Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 17:36
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
try to learn more Aug 3, 2008

Hilde Granlund wrote:

The thought of possibly making a mistake that could lead to misunderstandings with serious consequenses bothers me a whole lot more.


Some translations might look too "artificial" for the people in the field. It is because a translator is never an expert and uses dictionaries, manuals, handbooks, consultants etc., while profi's use slang and get used to it. One should never translate using slang. Even translating for the same people for decades. The translation of a special text must be neutral, even bookish. Bookish style is anyway better than slang. You never know who will read the translation. There might be non-professionals among the readers and they need to understand too.

While translating some hi-tech manuals I use the "grandma" rule. If your grandma -- representing a 25-year gap -- understands the manual well and is able to operate the device, the translation is OK.


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 17:36
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
Another relevant thing that bothers me Aug 4, 2008

Richard Bartholomew wrote:

Sooner or later your translation is probably going to land on the desk of someone with intimate working knowledge of its context and vocabulary. If your translation is reasonably good, that reader will understand what the document's author is communicating.

You haven't been working in that reader's environment for the past twenty years, so you won't express things quite like (s)he or one of her or his colleagues would. How often do you think readers burst out laughing, or at least shake their heads, when they read what you've written? Does this possibility bother you?

P. S. The proofreader or editor probably isn't one of the reader's colleagues either.


This is the general quality of the source text which gets worse and worse (even from the same clients with whom I work for years). Sometimes there can be funny things both in the source and in translation (due to many reasons), but sometimes the English texts written by non-native speakers are so bad, that it becomes almost impossible to understand the source. Moreover, when things are about some technical stuff, user manuals, and so on. Imagine a user manual for installation of equipment - 360 V, and there was a mistake in the source text about installation of the cables (imagine the possible consequences - and the target reader will read the target text of the manual).

And then there is a dilemma - to translate such source text "as is" and to "wash my hands", or to pile the client (who usually does not bother too much) with questions "Could you please check if this sentence of the source is really correct?", "Please check the technical parameters something is wrong here...", "Could you please explain the exact meaning of this sentence?". What bothers me most in the latter case is that there is a long silence after such questions, and when you start other jobs, make your schedules, the client suddenly decides to "update the source" based on the remarks and questions sent (i.e. to improve/correct it) and they need these updates NOW. Of course, for free. To help and improve something is not a problem, but it distracts very much from other schedules and jobs what often turns into quite a chaos. Let alone a possibility that the translator can really skip something wrong in the source and make the same in the target text (we cannot be experts in hundreds of areas).











[Edited at 2008-08-04 02:02]


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Michael Barnett
Local time: 10:36
English
+ ...
Comments of a non translator Aug 4, 2008

Yes, of course I have laughed at some translations as, I am sure, most professional translators must do.

That said, I can tell you honestly that I do not envy your job, it is so hard.

I participate here on proz.com simply as a hobby. Within my narrow field of Fr>Eng medical translations it is clear to me who is very good and who isn't. Not only does the medical translator need a strong knowledge of the language pair, he needs to understand the technical issues and the specialized vocabulary.

But beyond that, there are cultural issues that make even technically correct translations seem odd in the target language.
See http://www.proz.com/kudoz/french_to_english/medical_general/2488111-étude_en_pratique_thérapeutique_quotidienne.html

Moreover, there are idiomatic phrases that simply are not appreciated by people outside of the medical profession because they are peculiar to the profession itself. Indeed, medicine is a subculture.

Regards!


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:36
Member (2007)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
laughing at yourself Aug 4, 2008

Sergei Leshchinsky wrote:

...
Some translations might look too "artificial" for the people in the field.
...


This is the idea I am trying to express. Thank you Sergei.

It just occured to me that the translator him or herself could also, more or less, play the role of the expert reader. Suppose that, over the years, you've acquired a much better feel for your specialty's language conventions. One day you decide to read over some old translations you completed years ago. You can hardly believe you actually submitted this stuff. Even stranger, the customer accepted it without comment.


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xxxAWa
Local time: 16:36
English to German
+ ...
Cooperation with client Aug 4, 2008

To me contact and cooperation with the client is important to avoid unintentionally funny translations. Usually I am the first person outside of a company to read a text, the first one not be affected by years of experience in the field, so I automatically proofread the text "with an outsider's view" (because I cannot translate what I don't understand) and my clients greatly appreciate it.

If any reference material provided by the client, my dictionaries or other sources are no help in deciding which of several possible translations to use, if the source text cannot be easily understood I make a list and send it to the client for clarification. This ensures that I use the terminology my clients and their customers are used to and there are no misunderstandings due to using different words for the same thing in talks/mails/letters and documentation.

If I'd ever get word of someone laughing at a translation I did I would be totally embarrassed. Let's not forget: clients who laugh at a translation think it (and the person who did it) is a joke - and certainly won't hire that translator again!


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Ioana Daia  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 17:36
Spanish to Romanian
+ ...
the other way around Aug 4, 2008

Sometimes you get to read a translation you've made a long time ago and discover it's quite good... Thanks God. But of course you always find stuff you'd change now.
That being said, I also do remember some old mistakes that make me blush...

Laughing at my translation is something is something I'd be very alarmed to happen, as I mainly work for TV stations and a lot of people read my subtitles... Plus my name is there for everybody to see...


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