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Rubbish in, rubbish out?
Thread poster: adrienneiii

adrienneiii
United States
Local time: 16:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 23, 2014

Hello, related to my query in another thread about restructuring of a particular sentence, I was wondering how you all feel about the rubbish in, rubbish out issue. How do you all approach it?

Probably in common with most translators, there is massive variation in the quality of texts that I receive. I would save myself a LOT of time if my translations reflected the original writing style of many of them! In addition, they involve applications for funding (the funding is granted by the institution that hires me to translate). So sometimes I feel that my translations should reflect the inability of the original author to clearly express their thoughts (so that the ones that are able look better in comparison). However, not sure my client would agree (I've never asked, of course!).

I'd love to hear you thoughts on this issue - thanks!


 

RichardP  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:57
Member (2014)
French to English
+ ...
interesting Jul 23, 2014

I have always translated proper business stuff where if there's a typo I ignore it as its existence isn't relevant. However in this case I think I would ask the customer what they want. Ask them the question you asked us. I would be interested to know what they say.

 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:57
German to English
Always do your best Jul 23, 2014

Sometimes I'm amazed at the poor quality of the material I'm asked to translate. A few times I've worked on documents that contain elements that make no sense at all ("To cancel, press F2. Press F2 to continue"). If a document is unintelligible, or has serious errors, then the author or outsourcer should be notified. In the above-mentioned case, the agency's instruction was to translate the document as-is, despite the repeated errors, i.e. GIGO.

However, one of the principles many translators go by is to translate ideas not just words. Unfortunately document authors frequently lack writing skills, and this inhibits the translation process. Ethically you are bound to produce a suitable product, regardless of your opinion of the merit of the source document or the linguistic ability of the author.

If you have moral reservations about the content of a document (e.g. pornography, anti-ethnic propaganda, etc.), then turn down the project.


 

Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:57
English to Spanish
+ ...
I agree Jul 23, 2014

...with Richard. If you want to know what they want, then ask. I have translated a lot of proposals for funding, but they come from the organizations applying for the funding, so as part of the job I try to improve the writing style to reflect merit on the presenting institution. They strongly approve of that effort.

 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 07:57
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Specialist fields Jul 23, 2014

One subtype of this when you're working in one of your specialist fields is that sometimes documents may pass through your hands when the author is, shall we say, less knowledgable about what they are talking about than you are. C'est la vie, I guess.

 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 07:57
Chinese to English
No single answer Jul 24, 2014

It depends on what the client wants, really, but when I'm translating I am often swayed by how much sympathy I have for the author. If the writer is not a professional, and they are just trying to communicate an idea, then I'm inclined to lend them a hand. If the original author is a professional who should really know better, then I don't feel any need to assist them. If they get a fact wrong, their readers should know they've got a fact wrong. If their sentences don't make sense in their own language, then their English readers should know that as well.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:57
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It varies Jul 24, 2014

My tagline is translating the meaning, not just the words, and one of my marketing strategies is that I always reserve the right to polish and write correct English, and as a lot of the texts I receive are marketing, it is necessary to adapt the style a little.

Sometimes legal texts leave much to be desired as far as clarity is concerned in the source language. Jargon is churned out and special 'legalese' constructions are used because 'everyone' knows what they mean - with the probable exception of the parties to the contract!

There are definite conventions and terminology for translating Danish law into English - the legal systems are different and that is a speciality that has to be learnt and respected. But the texts I translate are working documents, so I translate into plain English. (If the source is actually unclear, I ask the client, of course.)

For other types of texts there are other reasons for 'tweaking' one way or another.
________________________

I did quite a lot of proofreading in my early career, and picked up a lot of good ideas from colleagues. The consensus there was always to write as well as possible, not to follow the Rubbish in, Rubbish out principle.

You form better habits and can write well when it does matter.

Then when time is tight and any translation is better than none, you can still produce a reasonable result. (Which might still be crucial in spite of the rush.)
_______________________

I simply cannot persuade myself to write rubbish deliberately, especially where in practice the source is a draft, as in a letter or application, and may not be used independently.

Quite apart from that, clients are known to read the translation and make improvements to the source text - I have been thanked for my suggestions on several occasions.

I think this is an important argument to justify working with professional translators and demanding proper rates.

Machine translation will inevitably follow the GIGO principle, and it is fast and cheap.
If that is good enough for 'here today and mulched tomorrow' material, then fine - but if you want to be paid a rate you can live on, then you have to offer a professional service and make sure clients know the difference.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:57
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jul 24, 2014

Translation is not transcreation. I am not hired to distil the meaning and then give it perfect structure and mood in the target language, something which the author failed to do in the source. I will definitely rearrange clauses in complex sentences in order for a more native effect, or for clarity, and I might even sometimes break up sentences or join them together, so restructuring is not entirely out of the question. However, there are limits. I am responsible for translation, not for the target text itself as if it were created independently.

Translators may be a type of writers, but they are not a free substitute for content writers and editors.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:57
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Excellence vs. fit for purpose Jul 24, 2014

I will always try to craft my prose and clearly as possible, tidying up thoughts and clarifying when necessary.

In the case of applications for funding, or a job, or whatever, I will automatically correct mistakes because I just can't help it. Partly I know that if the person doesn't get the funding or the job their first impulse will be to blame it on the translator. Even if I keep a trace of all files and correspondence and can easily prove where the mistake lies, I'd rather not have to do it.

If I had to translate several applications, I think that even if I polish some stuff up a bit in the worse applications, the better ones will still be more convincing, quality always shines through. The text will flow better from the start, so corrections during my final read-through will turn a good text into a brilliant one, while my painstaking efforts to improve the mediocre applications will simply turn mediocre into something that just scrapes through into the "fit for purpose" category.


 

Kalyanasundar subramaniam
India
Local time: 05:27
Tamil to English
+ ...
Translation quality Jul 25, 2014

Yes,translation quality is directly proportional to the source quality . If the source quality is not up to the mark , it is always better to contact the outsourcer /customer, citing specific examples from source material and seek clarifications . In most cases the customer would want a good quality translated document , without compromising the source content .

You are right . A deficient source will surely reflect in translation quality and in turn it should not reflect on the painstaking effort of the translator.

Best of luck


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:57
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jul 25, 2014

Re: both 'excellence vs. fit for purpose' and 'translation quality'

Translation — understood as a process, activity, occupation, job — is not the same as the translated text (target), which is its product.

Even the product itself, though, is the product of translation of something which already exists, not the fruition of someone's (e.g. an author's, editor's or sponsor's) hopes for a certain text in a specific language.

It is hard to call a good text a good translation of a bad text.

Even if we agree that a good text can still be a good translation of bad text, for example where obvious linguistic errors are corrected without altering (or guessing at) the meaning, the goodness of such translation exists despite the corrections, not because of them.

Again, translation is rendering from a language to a language, not creation of something the original author dreamt about but couldn't achieve. We translate texts, not dreams.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:57
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I tried that once Jul 25, 2014

adrienneiii wrote:

Hello, related to my query in another thread about restructuring of a particular sentence, I was wondering how you all feel about the rubbish in, rubbish out issue. How do you all approach it?

Probably in common with most translators, there is massive variation in the quality of texts that I receive. I would save myself a LOT of time if my translations reflected the original writing style of many of them! In addition, they involve applications for funding (the funding is granted by the institution that hires me to translate). So sometimes I feel that my translations should reflect the inability of the original author to clearly express their thoughts (so that the ones that are able look better in comparison). However, not sure my client would agree (I've never asked, of course!).

I'd love to hear you thoughts on this issue - thanks!


Out of exasperation with a very annoying architecture critic who often asked me to translate things that were really not much more than drafts, one day I literally translated exactly what he'd given me, as he'd written it. And he was angry!

I've never worked for him again. I think he was so arrogant that he thought he could just scribble down a few thoughts and I would fill them out and organise them into a well-written (translated) text.

I know there are academics who do that, who just, as it were, let fall a few pearls of wisdom from the great heights where they exist, expecting their underlings to create something that can be used down here on earth.

Not me, pal. You know where you can stick it.

However I still very frequently - in fact nearly all the time - find myself asked to translate documents by Italian academics who think "deliberately incomprehensible and badly written" is a scholarly way to write, and which I have the pleasure of turning into the kind of English that an anglophone scholar would be able to understand.

I also get a lot of technical documents written by techie people who don't know how to write or how to be consistent with their terminology. That's fun too.

I think.

And don't get me started on the people who can't spell English proper names, such as "Copenaghen" [sic]

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:20 GMT]


 

Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 01:57
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
You're too strict. Jul 25, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

And don't get me started on the people who can't spell English proper names, such as "Copenaghen" [sic]

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:20 GMT]


It's easy to get foreing names wrong.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:57
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Very funny but.... Jul 25, 2014

Andy Watkinson wrote:

Tom in London wrote:

And don't get me started on the people who can't spell English proper names, such as "Copenaghen" [sic]

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:20 GMT]


It's easy to get foreing names wrong.


But "Copenhagen" is the same in Italian as it is in English (and that was only one example). How about "Margareth Teahcer"?

Anyway, whether we like it or not, our job as translators is often, alas, to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:41 GMT]


 

Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 01:57
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Pet peeve Jul 25, 2014

Tom in London wrote:

Andy Watkinson wrote:

Tom in London wrote:

And don't get me started on the people who can't spell English proper names, such as "Copenaghen" [sic]

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:20 GMT]


It's easy to get foreing names wrong.


But "Copenhagen" is the same in Italian as it is in English (and that was only one example). How about "Margareth Teahcer"?

Anyway, whether we like it or not, our job as translators is often, alas, to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

[Edited at 2014-07-25 15:41 GMT]


Hi Tom,

My particular peeve is "foreing" as used widely by the Spanish press to refer to that well known department, "The Foreing Office" - it's English so it ends in "ing", obviously.

Good nigth.


 
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