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Understanding Relay Translation

This article is on relay translations and gives a short overview of what they are and how they should be managed. A simple explanation of relay translation is having a text translated into one language so you can use the target text to do another translation into a third language.

Normally, this practice should be avoided as it is very dangerous to translate texts continuously from one language to language. There is too much room for error  and certain cultural aspects tend to “sneak in” each time the text is translated.

Despite this, it is sometimes unavoidable. Now why?

There are actually three reasons:

  1. As an effort to ensure quality and save time. (Contradicting, but will explain in the following)
  2. As an effort to save money within the scope of a larger project

Ensuring quality

With regard to certain language combinations, there is a shortage of translators on the planet. Kazakh to German is one of many, but I will use it as an example. Although it is a seldom language combination with only a handful of translators offering it, there are many German speakers that do in fact speak Kazakh, but there are very few people working as translators and even fewer that meet the requirements for performing a specialized quality translation at a professional level.  Furthermore, in order to meet requirements set by the European standard for translation services, EN 15038, there have to be two translators, one for the translation and another to do the proofreading and verify the quality and accuracy of the first translator. For this reason, it may be a good idea to find and Kazakh to English translator and then have the English translated or “relayed” into German. English translators are more prevalent than German speakers and having a text translated from English into German is a relatively simple task. All in all, this process is much quicker in general than waiting for a Kazakh-German translator and proofreader to be available, so it saves time and seeing that there more resources available to check Kazakh to English and English into German, the risk of poor quality is thereby reduced if measures are taken to perform the relay translation properly. It would in fact be great if an extra proofreading was built into the project and allow a native from Kazakhstan with really good knowledge of either English or German to look over one of the translations to ensure that every idea in the text and nuance has been expressed accurately.

Normally, relay translations cost more money because you have to involve two translators and two proofreaders to do a single translation.  Despite this, the quality of the translation may not be as good as if two translators that translate solely into the target text had performed the translation. I do not believe the aforementioned process of relaying the translation leads to errors in the text, but I do believe certain stylistic aspects do get lost in translation. Think of relay translation as making a photocopy of a photocopy. It is still a photocopy and it is accurate, but there is that little something missing.

Effort to save money within the scope of a larger project

Relay translations are also done to save costs within larger projects. Let us assume for a moment that no lack of translators exists within the scope of a project consisting of five languages, including English. It might be a cheaper and quicker route to have the document first translated into English and then into the remaining four languages rather than arrange those languages to all be translated from Kazakh. Although quality may be sacrificed when doing so, it does save on effort and, in some cases, time as well. Additionally, depending on translator prices, it might also be less expensive.

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