traslation of badly written texts
Thread poster: Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth Kelly
Local time: 17:27
English to German
+ ...
Mar 29, 2006

Has anyone experience with translating texts, written by non-native speakers. The text is hard enough to understand. Should I make it perfect in the translated version? Appreciate any advice.


Anne Koth  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:27
Member (Feb 2018)
German to English
what's the alternative? Mar 30, 2006

emkelly wrote: Should I make it perfect in the translated version?

I can't think of any other way to do iticon_smile.gif

I'd suggest double-checking any ambiguous or particularly strange phrases with the author, asking them to explain it in more detail.

Also, make it clear when you accept the job that you are not responsible for any mistakes (of meaning) in the target text caused by errors in the source text.


Trevor Butcher
Local time: 18:27
Perfect, maybe or maybe not Mar 30, 2006

emkelly wrote:

Should I make it perfect in the translated version?

Well, I believe that it depends on the purpose of the text. Sometimes the mistakes may contain some information about the writer, such as if the writer is angry or not.

I suggest smoothing out the mistakes that you are sure, or have confirmed, are not part of any important sub-text.


Jerónimo Fernández  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
+ ...
Depends on the text Mar 30, 2006

I once translated some articles about China written in euhh... English? by a Chinese scholar. There was no way to contact the author (texts were some 15 years old).

Because it was going to be published as a part of an encyclopaedia in Spanish, it didn't make any sense to make a Spanish version as bad as the English was, so I had to research a bit harder to make sure my interpretation of the text really made sense.

However, there are other cases where being more literal is mandatory, say, in court cases or when translating a character's speech in a movie, and such.

As a rule of the thumb, if the way things are said is really important, I stick to the source text. If not (when it comes to instructions, manuals, explanations, etc.) I try to make the translated text easy to understand.

Granted, if you can contact the author, that's an advantage, but make sure you make specific questions, eg:

- On page 5, paragraph 3, when it reads "John and Mike were in the park. Then he fell", what does "he" refer to, John or Mike?

I've found out that being very specific in your questions helps a lot. If you can make the author choose between option a and option b, it'd be easier than if s/he has to explain the whole concept in other words.

Hope this helps.
Kind regards,


PS: Oh, and I've experienced that with native speakers tooicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2006-03-30 11:49]


Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
I'm with Anne Mar 30, 2006

For most situations involving written translation I think it's a mistake and even dangerous in a way for the translator to produce purposely flawed language (literary translation and court interpreting are exceptions, IMO).

One key thing that I learned when I was a teacher is that one should avoid reproducing/repeating a student's errors, even for purposes of illustration. In other words, when a student made a mistake I would never say "You said A, you should have said B." Instead, I would simply model the correct way to say it. The human brain unconsciously tends to remember what the eyes have seen and what the hands have done and does not always make the distinction between correct and incorrect.

In other words, practice does NOT make perfect if you're practicing imperfection.

Another consideration is that the client may have no idea how bad the source text really is, and if the translator produces a badly written translation, it may be ascribed to incompetence on the translator's part.

My too sense worthicon_smile.gif


GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:27
Spanish to English
+ ...
Previous discussion Mar 30, 2006

See also for a discussion of this issue with numerous arguments for both sides.


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traslation of badly written texts

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