What do YOU do to promote professional translation?
Thread poster: madak

madak  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:02
Swedish to English
+ ...
Sep 5, 2010

I’m just back from three weeks of travelling – first week was a business trip to Sweden and the subsequent two our annual holiday in Italy. Being a word-curious person, I can’t help noticing bad and (very occasional) good translations.

The first week was spent in a 4* hotel in Sweden. The English version of their website was by no means bad, but I could clearly read the underlying Swedish. Although the website could do with some TLC from a native English speaker, I could read and understand the information given. The same goes for many Swedish websites – understandable but somewhat awkward.

Then on to Italy (3* hotels only as I had to pay myself). Although I can understand that small, privately owned hotels rely on Google Translate or (worse?) a nephew who’s studied English at school for a few years - (“In the treatment of your room…” – from a piece of paper informing me that breakfast was included in the room rate at a relatively expensive hotel in Lido di Jesolo), I have more problems with larger businesses and public authorities doing the same.

“Digit your security code…” – Cassa di risparmio di Venezia’s cash point.

Not to mention the “Snack Bar” machine at Venezia Santa Lucia which had instructions about what to do before putting coins into the slot – my non-Italian speaking son is still trying to work out what to do to buy a Coke (we returned yesterday).

However, 1st prize has to go to the sign next to a lift at Fiumicino airport

We did jump on and off a few vaporetti trying to kill time before the night train to Rome, but I can’t remember crossing the Atlantic…

Now back to the question in the heading: what do YOU do to promote professional translation?

Do you contact companies/public authorities to inform them of their poor choice of translation solution? As the monolingual persons who commissioned the translations above are unlikely to be aware of how bad/ridiculous/mad/hilarious the so-called translations actually are, they will also be blissfully unaware of the problem unless someone with more knowledge of the target language actually informs them. I’m not talking about contacting the company/organisation hoping to pick up a commission, just putting forward the business case for proper translation.


 

Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:02
English to German
+ ...
I -- can't. Sep 5, 2010

I once notified the owner of my favorite Indian restaurant that their menu card listing "Sweat & Sour" doesn't sound too yummy. That was it.

We encounter those things all the time. And I am wondering to what degree we should apply our altruism. Usually, we are pretty militant when it comes to cheap translation.


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 17:02
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
I just smile... Sep 5, 2010

In my professional youth (some 30 years or so ago) poor translations used to drive me crazy, but every time I tried to explain that a poor translation brings losses to a business I was faced with a wall of indifference... So, nowadays I just smile (sometimes I do laugh out loud) and ignore it!

 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 18:02
German to Serbian
+ ...
What do I personally do about it? Sep 5, 2010

I provide professional, thoroughly researched translations. And I reject all job offers from clients who appear to be lovers of cheap and unprofessional translation.

That's my take in the fight against unprofessional outputs.

Please do tell me, why should I be educating them FOR FREE? Wouldn't that be a continuation of a free work circle, which we label here as utterly unethical? Or you truly believe they would suddenly become enlightened, if told about the bad translation, and hire a pro to fix their text?

[Edited at 2010-09-05 15:36 GMT]


 

Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
Sweden vs Italy? Sep 5, 2010

I wonder why the quality of translation was better in Sweden than in Italy? If we could answer that question, then maybe we'd start to understand the problem.

Off the top of my head, I can't help but think that pay has something to do with it and that there are more alternatives for decent jobs in Sweden, which means that only truly vocational people become translators. Spain is more like Italy than Sweden, and I have the distinct impression that there is a broad cultural belief in cheap rather than good - not just in translation, but in employment (which is why many 40 yos have problems getting jobs) and in other areas.

I personally contribute more on the supply side (workshops and conference contributions) but I also do as Lingua 5B does and will not accept jobs at rates below what I consider to be reasonable ones.

Many clients are to some or a large degree insensitive to the effects of poor writing/translation. Recently I took umbrage at seeing how an article for which I was credited had two basic errors (one grammar and one punctuation) in the abstract. They had been introduced by the journal itself. The author was willing to write to the editors, although a bit reluctant, as he said it didn't really matter, that what he wanted had been achieved. I don't think he's entirely insensitive, just he has a different perspective from mine.



[Edited at 2010-09-05 19:08 GMT]


 

Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
Sweden vs Italy? Sep 5, 2010

I wonder why the quality of translation was better in Sweden than in Italy? If we could answer that question, then maybe we'd start to understand the problem.

Off the top of my head, I can't help but think that pay has something to do with it and that there are more alternatives for decent jobs in Sweden, which means that only truly vocational people become translators. spain is more like Italy than Sweden, and I have the distinct impression that there is a broad cultural belief in cheap rather than good - not just in translation, but in employment (which is why many 40 yos have problems getting jobs) and in other areas.

I personally contribute more on the supply side (workshops and conference contributions) but I also do as Lingua 5B does and will not accept jobs at rates below what I consider to be reasonable ones.

Many clients are to some or a large degree insensitive to the effects of poor writing/translation. Recently I took umbrage at seeing how an article for which I was credited had two basic errors (one grammar and one punctuation) in the abstract. They had been introduced by the journal itself. The author was willing to write to the editors, although a bit reluctant, as he said it didn't really matter, that what he wanted had been achieved. I don't think he's entirely insensitive, just he has a different perspective from mine.


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 23:02
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Translation of product names Sep 6, 2010

Bilbo Baggins wrote:

Many clients are to some or a large degree insensitive to the effects of poor writing/translation. Recently I took umbrage at seeing how an article for which I was credited had two basic errors (one grammar and one punctuation) in the abstract. They had been introduced by the journal itself. The author was willing to write to the editors, although a bit reluctant, as he said it didn't really matter, that what he wanted had been achieved. I don't think he's entirely insensitive, just he has a different perspective from mine.


I met many situations with trouble of product name translations. Those products were not originally planned for globalization. But when it goes, straight translations initiate a number of jokes. A good hotel name can be transliterate into English but its English spelling is not much aware of connotation of a bad meaning. Newspaper name, soft drink names and the like are what I met and laughed to myself when I travel to some countries.

Soonthon Lupkitaro


 

Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Greenland
Local time: 14:02
German to English
+ ...
Splitting hairs Sep 6, 2010

Yes, over the years I’ve sent a handful of e-mails to companies and organizations whose websites had appalling English translations -- and never received any response whatsoever. They don’t seem to give a hoot.

The only exception was a French provincial park that sent me back a letter thanking me for pointing out that their translation was crap.

Of course I notice substandard translations all the time, even on websites owned by people who I know personally, but I’ve slowly realized that you don’t make many friends by pointing it out. Most individuals react with extreme skepticism to such comments, essentially because the website/signpost/restaurant menu or whatever appears to be serving its intended purpose just fine, thank you -- despite any (anal? wacky? spiteful?) claims of a poor translation.

It’s like when my grandfather used to lecture me on my poor grammar. Wasn't he just being an old stick in the mud? I mean, if my grammar was so bad, why did all the other kids have no trouble understanding me?

Obviously, he was just a finicky hair-splitter.

Well, here I am, an adult – and I’ve become a professional hair-splitter myself, but only for the benefit of my clients. There's no point in getting all worked up about the many wretched translations around me. I just make note of them, chuckle, and move on.

For instance, at the security checkpoint of the German border police at Düsseldorf International Airport there were signs near scanning machines informing passengers that they should “inlay all belongings in the bowl.” No bowls in sight -- only trays, and "inlay" looks suspiciously like the German "einlegen." And the people standing next to the sign were carrying guns! I quickly inlaid everything in the bowl.

This is not the only howler that I’ve seen at a major airport. I also saw a traffic sign at Copenhagen International Airport directing me to the “set down” area. Huh? Is that where the aircraft land? It turned out that it was the passenger “drop-off” area. Set down? Set up? Drop off? Let’s call the whole thing off! As long as nobody tried to “set down” a Boeing 747 in the drop-off area, well ... the sign must be all right.

Another airport sign: At Newark Airport (New Jersey), there was (in the pre-Google Translate days) a multilingual sign directing passengers to the customs area ... in French (douane), Spanish (aduana) Japanese (税関), etc., etc. ... and German (Landwirtschaft) … wait a minute, doesn’t that mean "agriculture”? Go figure.

Who is behind all these disastrous/ridiculous/hilarious translations that we find in prominent public areas? Good question.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:02
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
I agree Sep 6, 2010

Bilbo Baggins wrote:
Off the top of my head, I can't help but think that pay has something to do with it and that there are more alternatives for decent jobs in Sweden, which means that only truly vocational people become translators. spain is more like Italy than Sweden, and I have the distinct impression that there is a broad cultural belief in cheap rather than good - not just in translation, but in employment (which is why many 40 yos have problems getting jobs) and in other areas.

Indeed. My experience with Swedish customers is that they do value a good translation, something I cannot say about Spanish translation agencies unfortunately.

Well, Spanish companies, public authorities, and agencies WANT good translations, but they never quite understand the link between a good translator and the effort required to make one. They seem to think that translators easily make good translations with a magic wand or something.

We had a case in our City Council here: they wanted English translations of informative panels, to be placed in front of our monuments. They said our very reduced quotation (we just wanted to help) was outrageous.... and now tourists visiting our city will read Spanish texts written with English words, and in very many cases not very carefully chosen options.


 

Anabel Canon
Local time: 18:02
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thanks, Paul! Sep 6, 2010

I loved your post: Your hilarious examples made me begin the day laughingicon_biggrin.gif. Much appreciated!!!

 

Catherine Brix
Local time: 18:02
Swedish to English
+ ...
Please, please, stop perpetuating the erroneous myth Sep 6, 2010

Madeleine, Tomás and Soonthon -
Swedish enterprises, local authorities and government agencies by no means warrant the praise you appear so eager to hand out. I find that one of the biggest problems in marketing translation services here is that Swedes generally believe that they are capable of writing documents in English that are on par with what a native English speaker would produce. The consensus here appears to be that it is after all "good enough", a notion in part confirmed in the original post in reference to the 4* hotel. The norm here is not excellence, but instead mediocrity.

For instance. Many municipalities, local and regional authorities that once used professional translators to translate their websites have now chosen to link to Google Translate. This little beauty is from a regional council's website:
Sörmland detonates electoral population

Now we blow up people embankment. For the first time in history Sörmlands we have now passed the 270 000 inhabitants! This means that Sörmland, 1 July 2010, had a combined population of 270 170 people. So far this year the county has increased by 1117 persons, of which as many as
1052 is the new arrivals. Unlike many other counties have also Sörmland a birth surplus of 75 people.

Names of employees are obviously translated, so they now have an employee named "British Steel".

Is this really indicative of valuing a good translation? Can this really be considered "good enough"? I've spoken with those in charge of the websites, and they feel it is "good enough". Their argument is that Google Translate enables them to provide translations in all languages, so they are willing to swallow a few embarrassments. Not a thought as to whether the standard in the other languages is as poor. They feel they are providing a service. I claim they do themselves a disservice. They don't care.

As for what I do to promote professional translations? I've been in contact with the Swedish Association of Professional Translators, SFÖ, and suggested that they do some serious lobbying. Three articles in a major daily newspaper this year on the topic of translation and Google Translate and not a whisper in response from them. Politicians promoting Google Translate as an excellent tool for getting information to the masses in all the wonderful languages of the world...and not a comment as to whether the politicians have a clue as to the accuracy of the translated information.

Phone calls to those in charge of websites that are a joke at best. And this, a rebuttal as to the quality of English written and published by Swedes. At best, it is mediocre. And there is no excuse, there are plenty of qualified translators in the country. Our rates are not high; the taxes and social welfare fees we pay are. So please, please stop telling the Swedes how clever they are, or how well they write and speak English, or how much more translators in Sweden make, or how much better than everyone else they are. This only serves to perpetuate a myth and it makes it so difficult to market services that are in actual fact much, much needed.


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
The underlying question Sep 6, 2010

I feel that to answer this question we must take a step backwards.

The real underlying question is: What do you do to promote quality writing?

In my experience, texts that are poorly translated are usually poorly written in the original language.

In the case of small businesses, we may overlook the fact that the owner is unable to write well, but poor writing in a large organisation tells us something quite profound about the organisation itself. Namely, that the organisation doesn't really care what the reader thinks, and that the words have been created and published by legal obligation or as mere decoration.

Indifference to the reader as a cause of poor writing is further reinforced by anonymity. By their very nature, unsigned documents are generally insincere and inaccurate. In the case of an unsigned document, nobody can be held responsible for an error, nobody can be congratulated for good work, and so nobody really cares what is written. An organisation that does care about the quality of content will often add the author's details to published documents.

Unsurprisingly, named articles are generally well written and well translated.

In short, poor translations are generally poorly written in the original language; and the cause is often an indifference to the reader that is reinforced by a lack of traceability.





[Edited at 2010-09-06 14:21 GMT]


 

broken_guitar
Local time: 13:02
Underestimated Sep 6, 2010

Well, I've been working as a translator for over three years - which for many people, however, is not a quite long time - and I've seen all sorts of bad translations.

Most of it, I guess, is because translation is a marginal job. It is underestimated.

The customers of many translation firms want the job to be delivery on time, and there is no problem if it is not that accurate, because most part what they want translated is bureaucratic documents: Reports that no one will read, agreements that will rest in a shelf forever. And, what people really want is to be understood - only.

If we make a deep analysis on how people communicate, we'll find out that the majority of the speakers of one language does not use it properly.

If someone in China can make business with US and European companies without properly speaking their languages, then why to bother?

I think professional translation must be promoted now and effectively, but how to do it? That's one question I keep asking myself.

All I know is: we got to enable communication the "bestest" way we can!

[Edited at 2010-09-06 18:48 GMT]


 


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