Translation isn't easy. And here's why.

By Alessia Petrucci
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Translation isn't easy. And here's why.

Translation is not an afterthought—a mere last step to send off some content to another market, it is instead part of the same communication chain that started with the authors of the original content organizing their non-verbal thoughts and expressing them in verbal language. The craft of the translator is to find a language, a mode, that continues that communication chain to reach another audience.

It’s a complicated task that presumes a deep understanding of the source text, a mastery of the target text and the writing skills to stretch the target language in a way that accommodates a message generated by somebody else, somebody ‘foreign.’

There is no easy or difficult translation. They are all difficult: what changes is where the effort goes. In a technical translation, the difficulty lies in the subject matter and its corresponding jargon. In stylistic text, it’s in the effort it takes to accommodate the purpose of the foreign message beyond its informative meaning.

There is no ‘word-by-word’ translation, or literal translation. A word-by-word translation is a non-translation; a literal translation is, again, a non-translation. A translation is a translation or it isn’t. 

When is a translation a translation?

A translation is a translation when the following steps are carried out:

  1. The meaning has to be extricated from the foreign message. If there are equivalences, all the better, but if these don’t exist, then they have to be created.
  2. The meaning has to be woven into the target language in a way that respects the foreignness of the source language but reaches the target audience in a form that they will accept.
  3. A second person needs to review the output. The effort of the first two steps is so intense that it’s difficult for one person to be impartial about his/her choices. You can ask a linguist to spell check his/her own translation, but that will not guarantee a real, impartial review.

These three steps involve thousands of decisions. A good translation is one that’s backed by good decisions most of the time and has made the relationship between source and target work.

For a localization company, what does it mean to make the right decision most of the time?

1. We need to make sure we give our linguists all the tools and information they need to make informed decisions. We call this phase “project setup.” We gather and define information such as:

  • Purpose of the text
  • Definition of the target audience
  • Preferred style 
  • Conventions to be followed
  • Terminology to be followed

These are collected in our reference material documents: glossary and style guide, or creative brief for stylistic texts.

2. We need to make sure we assign the right translators to the right text. That implies a good screening process to begin with, but it doesn’t stop there. There has to be a strong feedback loop and constant monitoring of their performance and delivery times. Good translators are very busy and in very high demand, so keeping them engaged and involved with interesting projects is key.

3. We need to address questions from translators as they go through the text and disseminate the answers to everybody on the team. This means having a good query workflow that allows questions to be gathered, answered, escalated and shared as well a quality assurance (QA) system that confirms that answers have been entered.

4. Quality control comprises all the steps above, plus regular monitoring of our output with a consistent, customized QA step. This is a data-processing exercise that must be done applying knowledge and sound data concepts. A process of this magnitude needs to respect the following two principles to be sustainable in a high-volume, high-intensity production environment:

  • Collect the right quality data. The whole exercise is only as good as the data you’ve collected. Quality criteria have to be chosen according to industry standards but also make sense in the economy of your production environment.
  • Know the purpose of your data, and learn how to interpret them. There really is no substitute for knowledge (as Dr. W. Edward Deming, the father of quality management, taught all those that wanted to listen). 

Translation is an architecture of choices

When it comes right down to it, the translation process is an architecture of choices. Wouldn’t you like to have an expert guiding you every step of the way? If you partner with Acclaro, that’s what you get. An expert translation agency who takes the time to understand your needs and applies years of industry knowledge to help you achieve your goals. 

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