What translating approach is best?
Thread poster: m_retriever (X)

m_retriever (X)
English to Spanish
Jan 8, 2008

I always state this question to myself, and I normally don't give much importance to it, but now that I'm starting with my first big project, a book of more than two hundred pages, I need to know the answer.

Which translator is best? The one that stays true to the way in which the original author expresses himself? Or the one that expresses as clear as possible what the original author wants to say?

For example (from English to Spanish), if the author says "I thank you the individuals who took the time to fill-out 23 pages of 350 questions about their most intimate issues.", which translator is best?

a) The one that writes "Doy las gracias a los individuos que se tomaron el tiempo de rellenar 23 páginas de 350 preguntas sobre sus cuestiones más íntimas."

b) The one that writes "Doy las gracias a las personas que se tomaron el tiempo de contestar 350 preguntas expuestas en 23 páginas sobre las características más íntimas de su vida."

Thank you for your help.


mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 09:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
Cart before the horse...? Jan 8, 2008

If I thank you the individuals who took the time to fill-out 23 pages of 350 questions about their most intimate issues. is typical of the quality of the English source text, then I would suggest that someone (the author or the publisher) would be well-advised to have it proof-read and/or edited before starting any translation.

And if it's too late to do that (e.g. if the book has already been published) then, frankly, I wouldn't bother too much about the quality or style of the Spanish translation, since it would be difficult not to end up with a better translation than the original.

Except that ... unfortunately ... neither of the two proposed translations actually corresponds to the sense (let alone the style) of the source text.



Sian Herrera-Delgado
Local time: 13:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
hmm Jan 8, 2008

How would you have translated the sentence then mediamatrix?


Paul Merriam  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:59
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Can you talk to your client? Jan 8, 2008

The example you give indicates that the writer probably isn't a native English speaker. The question then arises as to why the translation is necessary.

a) Scenario 1: This is the author's marvelous work (at least in the author's mind) and the author wants it to be available to a Spanish-speaking audience. In such a scenario, you want the author to look good.

b) Scenario 2: This is being translated for someone who is claiming in court that the English text is difficult to understand. In such a situation, you want to match the register of the original (which in this case is not particularly erudite).

You should also check whether you can ask for clarification. The sentence you gave could be parsed as being 350 questions on 23 pages or as 23 pages of 350 questions each (i.e., 8050 questions). I think the former is more likely, but can you ask?


Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:59
English to Arabic
+ ...
It just has to sound as if it was originally written in the target language... Jan 8, 2008

Only in specific cases would it be important to preserve the WAY in which the original author expresses himself, if there is a particular reason why you want reproduce the author's style (in translations of literary texts e.g.)

I only vaguely understand Spanish, but I can imagine, for example, that the expression "sus cuestiones más íntimas" may sound unnatural to the Spanish reader, so you should be able to change it in a way that makes the meaning clear.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:59
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Depends on the text class Jan 8, 2008

I would guess that your text belongs to the class of utility texts. In this case you should forget about the style of the source text as much as possible and write as a good writer of Spanish would do. This is not always easy, if you do not fully grasp the meaning.
Its a pity that CAT-tools lead us to translation sentence by sentence. Better read a whole paragraph and write it down in your own words.
Different cultures handel communication differently. What is good style in English may seem rather silly in Finnish, so forget about style in utility texts!


[Bearbeitet am 2008-01-09 07:53]


mediamatrix (X)
Local time: 09:59
Spanish to English
+ ...
"No answer" came the stern reply. Jan 8, 2008

Sian Herrera-Delgado wrote:

How would you have translated the sentence then mediamatrix?

I refuse to answer that question since we do not have sufficient context to permit an unambiguous understanding of the source texticon_smile.gif !

After professional editing to correct the non-native English, does

I thank you the individuals who took the time to fill-out 23 pages of 350 questions about their most intimate issues.

come out as:

a) I (want to/take this opportunity to) thank you, the individuals who .... (source text lacks a comma)


b) I want to say "thank you" to the individuals ... (source text lacks a verb and some quotation marks - and maybe even an upper-case 'T' and an exclamation mark, as in "Thank you!")?

or (?)...

Although the general idea is the same in both cases, the style is quite different: a) is personal, addressing 'you', the individuals, directly whereas b) addresses all readers in a form that draws their attention to the author's public acknowledgement of the assistance given by the respondees.

I would also take issue (sic) with both 'características' and 'cuestiones' as a translation of 'issues', but again, judgement must be reserved in the absence of context.

So, as we say time and again in Kudoz: Give us the context!*


* Incidentally, it would interesting if m_retriever were to post this sentence in Kudoz, just to see how the eng-spa community would handle it.


m_retriever (X)
English to Spanish
the context!* Jan 9, 2008

Thank you for your replies.

Yes, it is an utility text, it is a book on a psychological and sexological study. A formal approach is mostly used in it, but sometimes a more personal approach can be seen due to the book's subject matter.

The total number of questions is 350, all of them together are exposed in 23 pages. Yes, I think you are right when you say I should give less importance to the style in which it was written and more importance to the message the author wants to deliver, at least in this particular book which isn't focused on having an exquisite writing style (laughs.) The sentence I showed is in the "Acknowledgements" section. The book is already published, as of 2002.


Leticia Klemetz, CT  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:59
Swedish to Spanish
+ ...
We need standards to measure it Jan 9, 2008

I think you are asking two different questions. First you ask about "what translating approach is best" in general, and then you ask about one particular example.
I will reply to the general one, since it's one of my specialty fields: I wrote my Honors Thesis on the ASTM Standard Guide to Quality Assurance in Translation.

At this point we have several standard guides for translation: ASTM is the one for USA, CEN is the one in EU, there's a nice DIN guide in Germany, Önorm in Austria... I could email you an article I wrote recently about the subject.

The main point in the ASTM guide, and the Specifications approach upon which it is based, is that you decide cannot up front on your own if the best approach is a literal or free translation or where exactly in between. That question has been discussed endlessly throughout history. The better question is "best for whom?", as Dr. Alan Melby stated, and the answer is there are many possible good translations. It all depends on what the client needs, how the text will be used, who the target audience is, and so forth.

Before attempting any longer translation, you really need to sit down with the client (or via your agency) and ask a whole series of questions. Like: are proper names supposed to be translated or not? (John / Juan) What is the education level of the target audience? How free can I be - do you want the text to flow best in Spanish according to my own criteria, or do you prefer me to stick as closely to the original as possible, even though a certain foreign flavor remains?

If you discuss all of the parameters (and the list is somewhat long) beforehand, you avoid doubts during the project and criticism after it.

There are many bad translations, but as I said, there are also many possible good ones. You need to determine what you client is looking for and work according to his/her desires. Often the client has never thought of these things, so it is important to explain it properly. We could summarize it with the old maxim "the client is always right" - but since at times the client says things because they have no idea it could be done some other way, it is important to use some diplomacy and offer alternatives for them to choose.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:59
English to French
+ ...
The text is mainly technical Jan 9, 2008

In the case of a text that is technical, as yours seems to be, the number one priority is for readers to understand it clearly. Once that goal is achieved, you need to make sure that the text reads as if it was written in the target language.

I know what it's like to partially disagree with the original writer's style; it happens to me all the time, even with highly technical texts. What you should focus on in such cases is to accurately transpose the meaning of the source text into the target text. This seems to be an easy task, however, it is not always so. Often, you need to break up a sentence into two sentences, change the order of ideas within a sentence and even remove parts of sentences that are only complicating the reader's understanding of the text without adding any meaningful information. This is very delicate. You need to set a limit as to how far you can go in modifying what the original author wrote.

My suggestion is to speak to the client about this and explain to them that this type of text cannot be translated simply, that is, translating the text as is into the target language. They have to understand that in order for the translation to be of good quality, things need to be edited in the source text, either before or during translation. Then, you would need to ask them how far you can go in modifying the text in order for it to correctly communicate the ideas of the source text and make it sound like it is the original text. If you agree upon a boundary here together with the client, then you will have a much clearer idea of where you are going and there will be less chances of the client rejecting parts of your translation.

All the best!

[Edited at 2008-01-09 17:29]


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