Oct 21, 2013

Translation Nuts and Bolts: Why You Knead an Editer

written by Keith Blasing

Even the best of translators makes mistakes, especially when under time pressure or working with unfamiliar subject matter. These might be basic typos: writing “now” instead of “not” or vice versa can be particularly dangerous (think: “The driver must now activate the ejector seat” vs. “The driver must not activate the ejector seat”). Or they might be hasty misreadings of the original: I have mixed up the Russian expressions “время пребывания” (length of stay) and “время прибывания” (time of arrival) a few times when reading too quickly, and typed out the wrong translation because of it. I can confidently state that this alone does not make me a bad translator. Speed is incentivized from both directions in the translation industry – clients like a quick turnaround, and translators and agencies generally get paid by the word – so mistakes will be made in the dash to get the thing done. What will cause problems, however, is not going back in some efficient way and making sure that those errors don’t end up in the finished product.

It is important to note that neither of the errors above would be caught by a proofreader who was not also looking at the original. Proofreading is essential for any text to be considered done, but it cannot detect errors in understanding the original or typographical errors that make sense in their own way but do not accurately reflect the original. Translations require editing with one eye on the original and one eye on the draft translation. The editor of a translation must also be a qualified translator, and is often (particularly when freelancers are used) the same person who produced the translation in the first place.

The best product, however, will generally come when a skilled editor polishes a work produced by a different skilled translator. The most obvious reason for this is that different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and a highly qualified translator-editor pair will be able to apply each of their strengths to the document. If the translator has an excellent knowledge of the source language and very good English, for example, but the editor has a stronger background in a particular technical field, the editor will be able to fine-tune the lexicon used by the translator. This will apply even if the client needs only a single document translated. But if the client does international business on a regular basis and needs translations frequently, an agency with a policy of having independent translator-editor teams will also provide more consistency in terminology and style. Because translating typically takes more time than editing, agencies can filter the work of several translators through a smaller number of regular editors, making it easier for an agency to ensure that the same lexicon, style, and formatting are used with consistency, all while using time to maximum efficiency.

Those are the main advantages of a separate translator-editor pair. Are there any disadvantages? Except in the highly unlikely event that a less than competent editor mangles the work of a perfectly good translator, the only disadvantages are time and cost. From the standpoint of time, the disadvantage is negligible. Any decent translator that is not being paid in peanuts or being asked to translate 6000 words a day would be editing his own work anyway, and this would take a certain amount of time. The amount of time added by using an independent editor is about equal to the amount of time it takes to pass the baton from the translator to the editor, and that shouldn’t be a lot. In terms of the cost, well, you get what you pay for with translations as with any other product. If you want to ensure that you are getting an accurate and readable translation, using a translator and separate editor is a cost-effective way to do it.

If there is any crucial takeaway here that might not be intuitive to the lay person, it is that editing a translation is not the same as proofreading an original text. Things that a proofreader would not catch will be corrected by a skilled editor who is checking the accuracy of the translation along with all the things a proofreader would normally look for. An editor working independently of the translator will provide the best results, and hiring an agency rather than freelancers will maximize the efficiency of this process.

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