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Source in English written by non natives
Thread poster: Lou SHEN

Lou SHEN
France
Local time: 18:56
Member (2007)
French to Chinese
+ ...
Jul 25, 2013

Dear All

This thing starts to bother me very much. I would like to see if others encounter the same situation.

I am a native Chinese speaker and I translate from French and English to Chinese.
Sometimes I am asked to translate from English to Chinese, and when I start to work on it, I notice that the English version is written by a non native. The text is not accurate or contains mistakes that French people can make. It is very difficult to tell a client that his English is not perfect. But it takes a lot of time to make sure exactly what the author wants to say. Sometimes the clients are nice, they would even say "Anyway, I will be here for you if you have any questions." But what if the whole text is just lousily written and I do have a doubt on each of the sentences?

I tried to ask a French version, but sometimes they just write directly in English = no French version!! I thought about putting a "native speaker source text " clause when I quote, but it looks "heavy"...

Any suggestions?

Best Regards
Lou SHEN


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Hebrew to English
Just be careful what you agree to translate Jul 25, 2013

Quite often I find that many of my source texts are of a poor quality for two reasons:

a) written by a non-native speaker of Hebrew whose proficiency just isn't up to scratch
b) written by a native speaker of Hebrew who simply lacks writing skills

Both can cause quite a lot of headaches but the only thing you can do is to scrutinize the text before you accept it to see if the quality of the text is such that it will be problematic for you. If you think it will be, either refuse the assignment or demand a higher rate for the increased time it will take you to translate due to the poor source.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:37 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:56
Russian to English
+ ...
Yes, agree with Ty. Jul 25, 2013

Don't agree to accept very bad quality texts -- you simply have to tell them, in a nice way. It is better for everyone in the long run. I mostly come across texts written by native speakers with questionable writing skills and love for pompous words in some languages that I translate from. This is even worse, because you cannot tell a Masters Degree candidate, or even a PhD person, that their text does not really mean that much, and is badly written, especially by the American standards which require even more simplicity and clarity.

Even some lawyers love to fill their texts with empty, pompous terms which do not mean what they are supposed to mean. They may be used to the fact that most lay people in their country are not supposed to understand them anyway -- this is what legal consultations are for, but the text has to mean something at least to the people that know legalese.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 08:31 GMT]


 
Post removed: This post was hidden by a moderator or staff member for the following reason: No content

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:56
English to Polish
+ ...
+1 Jul 25, 2013

Ty Kendall wrote:

Quite often I find that many of my source texts are of a poor quality for two reasons:

a) written by a non-native speaker of Hebrew whose proficiency just isn't up to scratch
b) written by a native speaker of Hebrew who simply lacks writing skills

Both can cause quite a lot of headaches but the only thing you can do is to scrutinize the text before you accept it to see if the quality of the text is such that it will be problematic for you. If you think it will be, either refuse the assignment or demand a higher rate for the increased time it will take you to translate due to the poor source.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 07:37 GMT]


I agree with Ty pretty much on everything, although I also believe that a client but especially a professional translation agency, isn't exactly free to send in particularly badly written texts for translation, especially when some unusual circumstances exist that should be pretty clear to them, e.g. a non-native speaker braving it above his pay grade. In reality, they should be paying surcharges for that, plus, you need to address liability in case something goes wrong. You won't always be able to determine, eventually, what the source author really wanted to say.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:56
Russian to English
+ ...
You will never know what the author wanted to say with 100% certainty, Jul 25, 2013

however, an avid reader fluent in a particular language, or a native speaker specializing in that field, can tell when the text is a total nonsense --just full of pompous words that some people from different specializations may take for so scientific or literary that simply they cannot understand it -- which may not really be the real reason for the text being incomprehensible.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 08:53 GMT]


 

EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:56
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
I face it a lot Jul 25, 2013

and it helps if you know the writer's mother tongue, because they think in it and write in English. Some gems that come to my mind: "eliminating mixed farmers" (no, there is nothing racist about it; it's "éliminer les planteurs mixtes", i.e., a sugar factory wants to stop working with farmers who deliver to its competitors, too. One that I wasn't able to fathom recently: "...which constantly enriches the paths, looking for and get-togethers."

 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:26
English to Hindi
+ ...
You are referring to badly written source Jul 25, 2013

Yes that can be a problem. But don't assume that a non-native is responsible for it. Many natives are quite capable of producing bad writing unaided. With so much emphasis on this site on native-only translation, it is more likely that the badly written text was the product of a true native.

What I do in such cases is to see to it that the meaning is correctly conveyed in the translation. If it is really bad, I inform the client. In most cases, even in a badly written source, it is possible to guess the correct meaning and the translation can be kept free of the problem. Where the source is too ambiguous, I add comments in the translation.

In these cases, the translation becomes a better and more elegant document than the source.


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:56
Hebrew to English
Except.... Jul 25, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
With so much emphasis on this site on native-only translation, it is more likely that the badly written text was the product of a true native.


This site represents only a tiny fraction of the translation market as a whole. Even so, there's no basis for your assumption.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 01:56
Japanese to English
+ ...
I don't know about anyone else Jul 25, 2013

...but I can almost always spot native mistakes from non-native mistakes, given enough text. There are things that natives with a reasonable education really just don't mess up, at least not consistently. However, there are plenty of things that they do mess up consistently - and a mistake is a mistake, it doesn't matter a whole lot what type it is.

I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that Balasubramaniam writes much better in English than 98% of my high-school graduating class. But if you are looking at him as a prototypical non-native writer, you are far overestimating the average person who tries to write in a second language. The problem isn't proficient non-native writers (of which there are actually precious few), nor is it proficient native writers (which can also be difficult to find sometimes); the problem is people who really have no business writing (for money) in a language, whatever the reason may be.

I also find it interesting how some of the best non-native English writers on these forums do not have English listed as a native language on their profile, whereas there are a huge number of people who have multiple native languages listed and yet...well, I'll just leave it at that.


 

Nathaniel2
Local time: 18:56
Slovak to English
Orrin Jul 25, 2013

is absolutely right. Non-native mistakes and native mistakes can be spotted from miles. The worst jobs for me are those (which I tend to turn down anyway) where I'm asked to proofread text written in English by a non-native speaker, without text in the original language to compare it with. And I don't mean the typical mistakes in my language pair, where punctuation is a dead giveaway in an otherwise well-written text, but sentences that make no sense whatsoever where the only way to ascertain the meaning is to back-translate to how the sentence might have been intended in the writer's native language. I did, however, lose a (small) client over this because they thought they'd written the most brilliant text and did not appreciate my corrections. Ah, well.
That said, Bala is to be commended on his English, it is truly on a level above that what I see in many natives.


 

finnword1
United States
Local time: 12:56
English to Finnish
+ ...
garbage in, garbage out Jul 25, 2013

Ask for an edited/corrected source text. If it is not available, don't second guess. Translate as it is written. Not your problem. I translate many legal documents that have already been filed with courts. I absolutely positively have to translte as they written. No ifs, buts, or translator's comments are allowed.

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:56
English to Polish
+ ...
Different in Poland Jul 25, 2013

finnword1 wrote:

Ask for an edited/corrected source text. If it is not available, don't second guess. Translate as it is written. Not your problem. I translate many legal documents that have already been filed with courts. I absolutely positively have to translte as they written. No ifs, buts, or translator's comments are allowed.


Hah, I could return more text in footnotes than in actual translation if I wanted.


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 00:56
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Takes by far longer than the actual paper itself Jul 25, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

finnword1 wrote:

Ask for an edited/corrected source text. If it is not available, don't second guess. Translate as it is written. Not your problem. I translate many legal documents that have already been filed with courts. I absolutely positively have to translte as they written. No ifs, buts, or translator's comments are allowed.


Hah, I could return more text in footnotes than in actual translation if I wanted.

Your average academic paper.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:56
Russian to English
+ ...
I have never translated anything that was not written by a native speaker Jul 25, 2013

at least I don't remember anything like that -- its is hard to find Polish or Russian texts written by someone who has not learned those languages as a child and spent most of his or her life speaking them, not to even mention Lithuanian. Yet, some of the texts are amazingly incomprehensible and cause a lot of problems when you translate them. Many people are simply very careless writers and the texts can really get on your nerves sometimes, especially if someone likes clarity, and each word meaning something.

It does not really matter if the mistakes in a translated text are native, or non-native -- a mistake is a mistake, and such translation is bad and has to be edited. Also a lot of British English casual writing does not sound native to many American English speakers-- I even did a survey on some texts,out of pure interest. An average person -- high school level find the more causal British English writing non-native, and they cannot tell many British English texts from non-native, high-quality writing, even with some mistakes in them.

In such languages as Polish or Russian you don't have to worry about native v. non-native mistakes, because most texts are, so called native, and some are really badly written. I have actually never known anyone who learned Russian or Polish as a second language and could write anything more complex in those languages. I am sure there are people like that -- I just haven't known anyone, except some people who had grown up in the Soviet Union and could speak two or more languages at almost the same level, like Lithuanian and Russian, Ukrainian and Russian, or another language and Russian.

And I agree with Finnword -- don't guess anything --it risky, in legal language especially. Ask for corrected text and explanations what certain things are supposed to mean, before you translate anything.

Another problem cause texts which have been Machine Translated from a third language --like German translated into Polish through MT, and then Human Translated into English. These texts after Machine Translation, in some languages at least, look like from another planet.

[Edited at 2013-07-25 18:21 GMT]


 
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