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Bad source text
Thread poster: Gregory Lassale

Gregory Lassale  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 01:37
Member (2019)
English to French
Sep 26, 2018

Hello all,

I recently worked on a few translations where the quality of the source text was, shall we say, not very good. The grammar was ok but things were often phrased poorly. I was wondering what people do when the source text is bad, especially stylistically.

Do you reflect that in your translation, or do you clean it and double up as a copywriter?

Thanks,

Gregory



[Edited at 2018-09-26 01:40 GMT]


 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:37
German to English
Do your best Sep 26, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:

I recently worked on a few translations where the quality of the source text was, shall we say, not very good. The grammar was ok but things were often phrased poorly. I was wondering what people do when the source text is bad, especially stylistically.

Do you reflect that in your translation, or do you clean it and double up as a copywriter?



[Edited at 2018-09-26 01:40 GMT]


This unfortunately is not an uncommon problem. I've always found such texts to be demotivating.
However, you are ethically bound to produce a document that reads reasonably well in the target language, even if it requires extensive sentence restructuring.

On the other hand, some texts are beyond salvation. Many years ago I translated an extensive procedures manual in which the instructions to cancel a record were the same as to store it (and repeated hundreds of times throughout the manual). Since this project had passed through several levels of agencies, there was no way to find out the correct commands, so GIGO was unavoidable.


Claire Shin
Jo Macdonald
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
#1 Do always consult with the client first! Sep 26, 2018

While poor quality and phony PEMT is rather common, the translator should always (1) inform the client and (2) negotiate everything BEFORE charging extra--even for a good reason.

 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
I think Sep 26, 2018

I think I would first point this out to the PM who sent me the file and then, possibly, ask if X was supposed to mean so and so etc. Very often, the answer would be that the PM will first ask or confirm with the client; sometimes the PM comes back to say that I am to put 'illegible' or to put it as I understood it. I follow the PM's direction then. No, I don't think I will copy the source text but produce something that is understood as I had understood but making a note that the source text was... See more
I think I would first point this out to the PM who sent me the file and then, possibly, ask if X was supposed to mean so and so etc. Very often, the answer would be that the PM will first ask or confirm with the client; sometimes the PM comes back to say that I am to put 'illegible' or to put it as I understood it. I follow the PM's direction then. No, I don't think I will copy the source text but produce something that is understood as I had understood but making a note that the source text was very poor.Collapse


Jennifer Forbes
mariealpilles
Teresa Borges
Riikka Uhlig
 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 07:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Don't set yourself up for blame Sep 26, 2018

I think a lot will depend on the type of text. If you're translating a patent, a marriage certificate or a diploma then the translation must be faithful to the original. If it's for marketing etc., then you have more freedom.

But the important point here is not to lay yourself open for blame for producing a text that reads poorly or is too free a translation. Instead, tell the client, in writing, that the source text is poor. If it really is too poor to understand, send it back fo
... See more
I think a lot will depend on the type of text. If you're translating a patent, a marriage certificate or a diploma then the translation must be faithful to the original. If it's for marketing etc., then you have more freedom.

But the important point here is not to lay yourself open for blame for producing a text that reads poorly or is too free a translation. Instead, tell the client, in writing, that the source text is poor. If it really is too poor to understand, send it back for revision, or simply for someone else to work on.
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Teresa Borges
Kay Denney
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
Claire Shin
Christine Andersen
Eliza Hall
 

Sara Massons  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:37
Member (2016)
English to French
+ ...
It depends on the type of text and target audience Sep 26, 2018

I think we obviously have to communicate with the client in that case. In the case of an agency, they will probably ask the end client who will not necessarily respond... I had to face this a number of times.

As to choose what to do, I personally thing the choice strongly depends on what type of text I'm translating and for what kind of audience. In the case of a legal document, there is no clue, you have to stick to the source. For a technical manual or internal HR documents or any
... See more
I think we obviously have to communicate with the client in that case. In the case of an agency, they will probably ask the end client who will not necessarily respond... I had to face this a number of times.

As to choose what to do, I personally thing the choice strongly depends on what type of text I'm translating and for what kind of audience. In the case of a legal document, there is no clue, you have to stick to the source. For a technical manual or internal HR documents or any professional communication, I would clearly improve quality in my translation so that everything is clear for the audience and "easy to read". For marketing or literal translation, or for video subtitles, I would generally try to reflect the poor style of the source text unless the client ask me to improve it. Sometimes it can be done on purpose and even if it's not, I think we have to remain in the tracks of the author.

I think you can compare this to what we do with the levels of language. If the source is very polite, you would render it in a polite way while if you have slang in the source, you'll put slang in the target as well but not necessarily at the same place or on the same words to remain "fluent" in your language.
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Sandra & Kenneth Grossman  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 09:37
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
GIGO Sep 26, 2018

In this case: Garbage In, Gold Out.

If you can figure out what it's all about, don't bother telling the customer. Nobody wants to know, nobody wants to handle this and probably nobody cares. Otherwise, they would already have noticed.
Do the best job you can do and move on with your life.
Next time, charge them more.



Sandra

[Edited at 2018-09-26 08:47 GMT]


Sheila Wilson
Michele Fauble
Katrin Braams
neilmac
 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:37
Member (2018)
French to English
GIGO? Sep 26, 2018

I mainly work in marketing.
I'm not sure that I agree with GIGO. If you just produce a text on a par with the source, and somebody tells the client that the target file reads poorly, it'll be your fault.

Rather than telling the client that they've sent me a heap of rubbish (after all they are often the person who wrote it, or may pass my remarks on to the author), I prefer to ask lots of questions to clarify the meaning. The sheer volume of questions is proof, without having
... See more
I mainly work in marketing.
I'm not sure that I agree with GIGO. If you just produce a text on a par with the source, and somebody tells the client that the target file reads poorly, it'll be your fault.

Rather than telling the client that they've sent me a heap of rubbish (after all they are often the person who wrote it, or may pass my remarks on to the author), I prefer to ask lots of questions to clarify the meaning. The sheer volume of questions is proof, without having to criticise, that the text has been poorly drafted. And you soon get an idea of how seriously the client takes quality when you look at their answers. I always phrase my questions so that the client can simply say "yes" to what I consider to be the most likely interpretation. Then I point out that if I haven't had answers by the time I'm supposed to deliver, that I will decide that the answer is always yes.

If someone just says "yes to all your suggestions, thanks" I take it that I'm on the right track and just forge ahead, maybe adding comments instead of asking any further questions. Always best to cover your back.

If I get a few curt answers that don't really help, with other questions being completely ignored, or labelled with a cryptic "have to see Joe about that" when I have no idea who Joe is, I'll just do my best, leaving in the questions (unless Joe provides answers), and I'll deliver like that, up to them to sort it out afterwards.

Sometimes I'll get long, detailed answers, and maybe spend an hour or so on the telephone getting to the bottom of various points, in which case I'll then take the trouble to properly research all clues and leads the client gives, and they'll get the best possible translation from me.
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Josephine Cassar
Philippe Etienne
Sheila Wilson
Michele Fauble
Christine Andersen
Jo Macdonald
 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:37
Member
English to French
No-GIGO Sep 26, 2018

So long as it can be understood, an awfully written source text is never an excuse to write an awful translation. Unless the source text is awfully written for a reason other than incompetence/lack of time.
No. No. No.

Customers can easily get dreadful translations through the readily available online machine translators.
If they turn to a translator, it is because they want another kind of service.

I've translated German English, French English, Japanese
... See more
So long as it can be understood, an awfully written source text is never an excuse to write an awful translation. Unless the source text is awfully written for a reason other than incompetence/lack of time.
No. No. No.

Customers can easily get dreadful translations through the readily available online machine translators.
If they turn to a translator, it is because they want another kind of service.

I've translated German English, French English, Japanese English, Spanish English, Nordic English, Chinese English, Russian English, Czeck English, and I've never thought of delivering dung with the excuse that it's double Dutch.

If it's a recurring issue that severely hinders your productivity, I'd bring the need of a rate increase (due to more time spent deciphering the content) to the attention of the customer.

Philippe
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Sheila Wilson
Kay Denney
Joakim Braun
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
neilmac
 

Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 08:37
German to Swedish
+ ...
Tell your customer Sep 26, 2018

Sandra& Kenneth wrote:

Nobody wants to know, nobody wants to handle this and probably nobody cares. Otherwise, they would already have noticed.

[Edited at 2018-09-26 08:47 GMT]


Strongly disagree. If there are errors and bad style in the original, I would most certainly want to give the agency a chance to tell the end customer. Sending that e-mail takes about a minute of my time. I've seen a lot of errors in texts by organisations that definitely care about such things and appreciate being told. YMMV.

(If I have a customer with the attitude that you describe, they manage to hide it very well....)

[Bearbeitet am 2018-09-26 18:07 GMT]


Josephine Cassar
Philippe Etienne
 

Tradupro17
United States
Local time: 02:37
Member (2019)
English to Haitian-Creole
+ ...
their/they to refer to one person Sep 26, 2018

Very often I encounter the use of "their/they" to refer to one person in the source text. Does anyone know why? Is it good English grammar? I always translate them as 3rd person singular and no longer give explanations to agencies. For other things that don't make sense, I just send an email to the agency.

 

Mair A-W (PhD)
Germany
Local time: 08:37
Member (2016)
German to English
+ ...
Singular they Sep 26, 2018

Tradupro17 wrote:

Very often I encounter the use of "their/they" to refer to one person in the source text. Does anyone know why?


Uh, yeah, I know why: because we don't generally refer to people as "it", even if we don't know their gender, and we're short on gender-neutral options in English. We're left with picking a gender, which is somewhat awkward, repeatedly using "he or she", which is clumsy, or using the singular they, which...

Is it good English grammar?


... yes. See e.g. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/they (scroll down to "Can they, their, them, and themselves be used as singular pronouns?")


I always translate them as 3rd person singular and no longer give explanations to agencies. For other things that don't make sense, I just send an email to the agency.


Natasha Ziada
neilmac
Jorge Barriuso Aguirre
Tradupro17
 

Jorge Barriuso Aguirre  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Like everyone said it really depends Oct 1, 2018

I've worked most of my career translating academic research and while the authors are generally very bright people, they are not always effective writers. Making sure the style of my translation is as good as it can be, no matter the quality of the source text is one of the reasons my clients keep sending me work. It does sometimes require quite a bit of back and forth with the author to clarify ideas, but they are trying to get their research results published in high impact journals and really... See more
I've worked most of my career translating academic research and while the authors are generally very bright people, they are not always effective writers. Making sure the style of my translation is as good as it can be, no matter the quality of the source text is one of the reasons my clients keep sending me work. It does sometimes require quite a bit of back and forth with the author to clarify ideas, but they are trying to get their research results published in high impact journals and really appreciate a translator who goes the extra mile to make sure their work is understood.

Garbage in, gold out, as someone mentioned upthread.

[Edited at 2018-10-01 16:02 GMT]
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Kaspars Melkis
Christine Andersen
 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 08:37
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
This was discussed at length in another thread Oct 2, 2018

Tradupro17 wrote:

Very often I encounter the use of "their/they" to refer to one person in the source text. Does anyone know why? Is it good English grammar? I always translate them as 3rd person singular and no longer give explanations to agencies. For other things that don't make sense, I just send an email to the agency.


There was a discussion of singular they here:
https://www.proz.com/forum/translation_theory_and_practice/328117-gender_specific_personal_pronouns_in_english.html
______________________________________

With regard to a poor source text, I try to sort it and write decent English, and I only refer back to the client if it is ambiguous, and really impossible to decide what is meant.

I live in the country where my source language is spoken, so I have heard most of the awful formulations before, and know what people are trying to say. It can be difficult.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:37
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
SITE LOCALIZER
Aah, the question about style... Oct 2, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:
The grammar was ok but things were often phrased poorly. I was wondering what people do when the source text is bad, especially stylistically. Do you reflect that in your translation, or do you clean it and double up as a copywriter?


This is a question often discussed by translation students in the classroom, but one's opinion seldom remains the same after you've done some real-world translations for a while, right?

Should you (or should you be able to) take care of style at the same time that they take care of meaning? Or should these be two separate tasks -- first translate the meaning, and then fix the style so that it is appropriate for the target audience? If you try to do both at the same time, then there is the risk that you will simply copy/mimic the style of the source text, instead of ensuring that the target text ends up with an "equivalent" style that is most appropriate for the target language culture. I suppose this discussion may be rather academic if the source and target language cultures are similar enough or have similar enough writing styles that one can get away with doing the style on the fly during the transfer-of-meaning stage.

Sometimes when I get an incomprehensible source text, then, if I have time, then I may try to improve the text, especially if the source text is actually not correctly written for its intended target audience. However, sometimes I simply don't have time to fix things, and I stick closer to the form of the original. I'm not happy with such a translation, but I know my limits.

Allow me to admit that I'm not very good at copywriting -- so with me personally there is quite a risk that I will actually end up simplifying the text (while retaining all meaning), which isn't always appropriate. We should not forget, also, that sometimes authors are deliberately obtuse. In addition, over-analyzing a text may result in translating a meaning that was not intended (or that the author did not realise might be understood that way).

The ideal circumstance is that the translator translates text that has been written specifically for translation in mind (or at least, that is publication-ready). Unfortunately too many people think that they can write, and they forego the services of an editor or an actual copywriter to fix their texts before sending it off to the translator.


 
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