How is true translation quality achieved?

Posted on Posted in Interesting translaton topics, Translation quality

Can you translate a text perfectly? Is that even possible?

Now look at the characteristics of translated text using a text consisting of 10,000 words as an example:

  1. 10,000 words is made up of approx. 73,333 characters, meaning the translators has to press on the keyboard that many times during the translation process, assuring that all the ideas of the source text are transferred into the translated target text
  2. The 10,000 words are subject to complex set of grammatical rules that have developed over the course of several centuries and, in the case of some languages, several millennia.
  3. Due to the great deal of complexity, the translation is subject to a set of stylistic rules that vary from person to person according to preferences, upbringing, mood, and subject-matter at hand, in addition to the fact that style itself is constantly changing. The latter brings light to something many tend to forget, namely the fact that languages are in fact “living languages” meaning that they are used as a primary form of communication between humans and are therefore subject to continuous development and change.

Now, ask yourself the following question: Is it possible that errors occur over the course of thousands of words, languages, rules, styles and people?

Well, surprisingly enough, good language service providers (LSPs) are able to deal with this in a very efficient manner. In light of the above, the law of probability itself is evidence of the fact that mistakes can occur, but purchasing your translations from a good LSP that has measures in place to reduce the risk of error can be quite beneficial. Many of the measures proclaimed to the European standard EN 15038 outline a great deal of the standards and methods which make this possible.

How is good quality achieved? Well, firstly, the translator that does the translation is a determining factor of good quality:

  1. Good quality starts at the source. Translators should be native speakers of the language they translate into.
  2. The translator should understand the source language to a proficient level in addition to having full command and skill in the target language.
  3. They should possess proven translation skills within the related field that they are translating into. Keep in mind that the language style involved for translating technical manuals can be a lot different that used for translating contracts for example.
  4. In addition to the above, the translator should be required to know all of the means and knowledge currently available to proofread the texts they deliver.

Once a translation has been delivered to the LSP by the translator, a near-perfect quality is expected. Unfortunately, as is the nature of text and volume delivered thereof, not to mention, due to human nature, this is not always possible. It is the duty of the LSP to ensure quality before it gets delivered to the end customer.

As a first step, the project manager usually looks at the formatting of the document to make sure that the entire translation is there before handing it over to the proofreader who looks at the text in great detail.

Is proofreading alone enough? Can’t even proofreaders make errors?

One of the first priorities of an LSP is, in addition to making sure that grammatical rules have been upheld and to make sure that there are no translation “errors” have been made. (e.g. that the word for “happy” has not been wrongly translated into the word “horrid” or that the word for “dog” has not been translated as “muffin”.)

Secondly, it is important to ensure that all numbers including dates and currencies are correct. Could you imagine if you were dealing with a contract and instead of “penalty of 10,000 USD” a penalty of “10 USD” has been written, or in the place of 1984, the year 2084 has been written on the translation of your mother’s birth certificate instead? This would simply be a nightmare.

Therefore in addition to the mandatory two-man rule of having a second set of eyes review the translation, an electronic means of checking should also be used to prevent any human error from being made. Electronic quality assurance programs are used as an auxiliary means to ensure that there are no errors with regard to numbers, spelling, terminology, punctuation, etc. It does not replace a second set of eyes, but actually sees things in larger translations that a human alone would find difficult to recognize. Bringing an electric analysis of translation to the attention of the proofreader truly improve the quality of the proofreading itself.

There are interesting proofreading theories as to what ensures the best quality. A good proofreader is an exact proofreader. There is no doubt about that. Classical proofreading measures entail a person that is native in the target language with excellent knowledge and translation skills to do a review of the translation.

Depending on the nature and difficulty of the text, it can also be very beneficial to have a non-native with proficient skills in the target language review the quality of the document, especially if he/she is native in the source language. Why? Priority number one for any translation is to ensure that all the thoughts in the source language have been thoroughly and correctly conveyed into the target language with no false translation. A non-native of the target language will not be able to always judge grammatical aspects of the text, but they will be able to recognize if there are mistakes or omissions in the target text quite easily as they have a “full” understanding of the source text and are able to see if the ideas have been conveyed correctly. Then, upon recognizing an error, they mark it and ask the original translator to once again make amendments to the text. Unfortunately, in most cases, this method is only possible when dealing with common languages, such as Spanish, German, Italian or French for example, and not in the case of non-European languages such as Arabic, Japanese, or Hindi for example. In these cases, only a native of the target language should attempt a review.

Last but not least, the LSP plays one of the most important roles in ensuring quality in knowing what the customer wants. A translation can be free of any error and even perfect from a grammatical standpoint, but if the customer does not like the translation, then quality criteria have not been met. For this reason, upon the beginning a translation project, a clear line of communication should be made and a customer evaluations should be carried out even after the translation has been completed to ensure that the translation has been performed in terms of all the expectations at hand. A translator can be the best one in the world and a text can be flawless, but “the customer is king” and shall always be right, even in the complex world of translation.

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