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The impossibility of perfection in the world of translations
Thread poster: nrdawe2

nrdawe2
Local time: 10:27
Italian to English
+ ...
Jul 1, 2010

Hello everyone.

I have been working as a translator for almost 2 years now, not freelance but in-house. I consider myself a beginner - I don't have that much experience and no translation degree (apart from a degree in languages which involved translation practice) - and carry out many translations which are always checked and revisions. I realise nobody is perfect and I often make errors which are picked up by the proofreaders from which I can learn from. However, having seen such a large number of translations during my time here, I feel that good translators are few and far between. I have seen so many mistakes in translations - some serious and evident had the person been familiar with the subject matter. It makes me think that it is almost impossible to achieve perfection in a translation, save a few highly competent individuals who can do this. I feel quite disheartened by this and it makes me reconsider my career choice as a translator. I want to be able to provide 100% accurate translations, but how can this be possible if people with more experience than me are unable to do this? In other jobs I think you can rectify mistakes you make, yet in the translating profession, once you do a translation and it's handed in to the client, that's that. There is no going back. I am also often asked to proofread complicated translations (for example, in the field of law). I really don't feel capable of doing this and often don't understand what is written in the English target text let alone what is written in the original.

Your thoughts on this are much appreciated!


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Celine Gras  Identity Verified

Local time: 10:27
English to French
+ ...
Specialize Jul 1, 2010

Hi Bibish,

Specialize, that would be my advice. To specialize in a field in which you are confident you can achieve good translations, and stick to that specialization. Each new translation you do will add to your knowledge and you won't fear being caught in a project in which you don't understand what you are translating.

HTH


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Angelica Kjellström  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 10:27
German to Swedish
+ ...
Experience will set you out Jul 1, 2010

Hi Bibish!

Hold on and have patience! You have "just" two years of real practice, but with time you will gain more and more experience and find yourself as a topnotch translator:-). You say that you know people with more experience than you have and they are no good translators either. Well, please do not generalize, many translators out on the "real" market are perhaps not as motivated as they ought to be and do not take their call too serious.

My advice: Hold on, show your sincere interest and dedication to each and every project and one day, I promise you, will you stand out in the crowd!

Kind regards,

Angelica Kjellström


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nrdawe2
Local time: 10:27
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your posts Jul 1, 2010

I have taken a course in a specialisation and often do translations in the field, but I know I have so much to learn! I have seen excellent translations. Perhaps I should have specified that we do work with some regular translators who translate very very well, but still occasionally slip up - I guess this is normal. Perhaps there is a minority of excellent translators and a majority of not so good ones?

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autor  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 09:27
Member
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Translators are only human... Jul 1, 2010

and we make mistakes whatever we do - writing a user manual, driving a car, refereeing a world cup football match.

I have little patience with anyone who believes it is possible to translate thousands of words of text without making a mistake. All we can do is use our experience, the best tools and our own quality control procedures to keep the percentage error rate as low as possible.

Around half the source texts I get to translate contain errors - and these have been produced by professionals in their own language, checked by reviewers and signed-off by a supervisor. And yet, they expect me to be 100% perfect.

Keep with it - this is the real world!

KB


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:27
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Being a good translator Jul 1, 2010

To be a good translator you need to have highly-developed writing skills in your own language.

Translating doesn't only require you to know what words mean; it also requires you to be able to write well in your target language, which should only be your mother tongue (if perfection is what you want).

You should be able to write well in many different styles.

This applies equally to technical and non-technical translations.

Most importantly, proof-reading your own work is essential. Never dash off a translation, spell-check it, and immediately send it back.

Print it out, leave it to "mature", read it again, and correct it before sending it.

[Edited at 2010-07-01 12:42 GMT]


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Ahmed Maher  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:27
English to Arabic
+ ...
I agree with Celine Jul 1, 2010

Hi,

Translation is more complex than technical writing jobs. In the first place, translator must be specialized in the subject he translate and must be familiar with technical writing in the subject and target language he translate.
So, experience in translation is a must to ensure the translator knowledge of the subject.

There are of course many more requirements such as translation degree, practice, and hard working.


Regards,

Ahmed Maher


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Training and feedback Jul 1, 2010

I believe in training personally. If you go to translation classes the teacher will literally tell you how to translate the text and you can adjust your thought process accordingly. If you do this with a wide range of texts after a relatively short period of time you will find that you can translate well. You have to get the thinking. I don't buy the writing skills theory, I think that a poorly written translation is evidence of poor translating skills.

Why don't you do a distance learning course and get some feedback from tutors. After all, one day you may want to spread your wings and become a freelancer.

Specialisation is important as it means that you have the upper hand in a negogiation scenario or in any other for that matter. I specialise in law for instance. I did a course in legal translating but that really wasn't enough to cope with difficult legal texts, so I did a degree in law, happily I'm close to finishing it. But now there are masters in legal and other types of translation, which may be a better solution. You'll have to save up your pennies though.

However I'm not one for encouraging young people to become translators. I think that it may be better as a second career. But that depends on you, on how much you like living in Italy, it's a beautiful place. If you are still young though, think about your options back home too. Age is important on the jobs market.

Good luck to you.


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nrdawe2
Local time: 10:27
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your comments Jul 2, 2010

I understand that it is normal to make the occasional error and that is where proofreaders step in. What I fail to understand is how a translator who translates technical texts mistranslates basic technical terms. I have spotted such mistakes and I am an (almost) beginner.

I deal mostly with technical translations at work. Recently I had to proofread two translations that were of a subject matter completely alien to me and I felt totally out of my depth. One was on the subject of funds and the other was concerning a tax audit. I was not able to check the technical terms used as they were very technical and I could not find the specific terms the translator chose in a dictionary. Do you think giving such a technical translation to someone like me who is ill-equipped to deal with the subject matter is normal practice?

Tatty, I would really like to do a distance course. Maybe one day when I can afford the expense of the course! There seem to be some good master's degrees in translation around. I would also eventually like to become a freelance translator. I want to get more experience in my specialisation first before I do that though. And I like Italy too much to leave!


[Edited at 2010-07-02 11:21 GMT]


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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:27
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Exactly Jul 2, 2010

autor wrote:

and we make mistakes whatever we do - writing a user manual, driving a car, refereeing a world cup football match.

I have little patience with anyone who believes it is possible to translate thousands of words of text without making a mistake. All we can do is use our experience, the best tools and our own quality control procedures to keep the percentage error rate as low as possible.

Around half the source texts I get to translate contain errors - and these have been produced by professionals in their own language, checked by reviewers and signed-off by a supervisor. And yet, they expect me to be 100% perfect.

Keep with it - this is the real world!

KB


There is no such thing as perfection in any profession! Especially one related to language!

Language is very complex and very human, it isn't math or rocket science. Most of the time "right and wrong" simply does not apply. There are so many factors to be considered.

Language is a living entity that's always changing. How could one achieve perfection? Who's to tell what perfection is?

All we can do is try out best. So as much as we disagree with proofreaders at times, their job is very important. None of the best writers that I know of would publish their books before a series of revisions and adjustments.

You'd be surprised - some people actually believe there's only one RIGHT way to translate a text. They are usually not biliingual though.


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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:27
Member (2007)
German to English
Let's cut to the chase. Jul 2, 2010

Look at it this way, Bibish. A perfect translation is whatever the customer says is a perfect translation. If the customer: 1. pays for the translation in full and on time, and 2. sends you more work, then he or she has tacitly declared your translation perfect.

Let me put another way. Perfect is in the eye of the customer.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Are you sure they are mistakes Jul 2, 2010

If the agency you work for sends out translations to natives with a stated area of specialisation, or one that is obvious from a glance at their CV, it would be usual for them to get basic technical terms wrong. I usually find the translations for technical terms on the internet, in wikipedia and parallel documents. Technical dictionaries usually provide some translations but context is all-important. Maybe you are relying too much on dictionaries. Unfortunately the field work is unavoidable.

Just some thoughts. BTW, good translations will always tend to converge.

I think that you have come to the realisation that the translating profession is not a very professional one. This would be one of the reasons why it isn't actually considered a profession in the UK. There is a lot of sloppy translation or mistranslation going around. Some people dash translations off any old how. This won't change until proper, homogenised training is put in place and agencies stop being so money-grabbing.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:27
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Previous thread Jul 2, 2010

http://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/63700-maximum_number_of_errors_allowed_in_a_translation.html

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Paula Borges  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 07:27
Member (2010)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
??? Jul 2, 2010

Tatty wrote:

If the agency you work for sends out translations to natives with a stated area of specialisation, or one that is obvious from a glance at their CV, it would be usual for them to get basic technical terms wrong. I usually find the translations for technical terms on the internet, in wikipedia and parallel documents. Technical dictionaries usually provide some translations but context is all-important. Maybe you are relying too much on dictionaries. Unfortunately the field work is unavoidable.

Just some thoughts. BTW, good translations will always tend to converge.

I think that you have come to the realisation that the translating profession is not a very professional one. This would be one of the reasons why it isn't actually considered a profession in the UK. There is a lot of sloppy translation or mistranslation going around. Some people dash translations off any old how. This won't change until proper, homogenised training is put in place and agencies stop being so money-grabbing.


Not considered a profession in the UK? I've worked and studied there and never heard that one. Could you please explain?


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Already posted Jul 2, 2010

in one of the forums.

It's a skilled office job. And many jobs now that weren't professions in the past are now considered professions. Only conference interpreting is considered a profession in the UK.


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