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Barbara Jungwirth of reliable translations llc writes about language and the business of translation.

Translators Editing Original Content – Why and How?

The term “Globish” was popularized by a French IBM executive, Jean-Paul Nerriere. Nerriere observed interactions at international business meetings and concluded that non-native English speakers used a type of simplified English to communicate with each other. He then created a codified version of basic English, which he termed “Globish”. I learned this from an article Jeana M. Clark and Esma A. Gregor (“Global English (Globish) and Its Impact on the Translator”) published in the November/December 2012 issue of the American Translators Association’s journal, The ATA Chronicle.

Since that coinage English has become, if anything, even more of a lingua franca around the world. This does not bode well for interpreters, who may lose out on assignments if international conferences are simply held in English on the assumption that everyone present speaks that language well enough. Conferences of the various European Green parties, for example, do not use interpreters, I am told. It also means reports and presentations at such events will have been written and disseminated in English, irrespective of the presenter’s native language. No translator required any more, right?

Well, not so fast. If these presentations are to be disseminated in the various countries whose representatives attended the conference or meeting, the presentations will need to be translated into these countries’ languages. I have been asked to translate an article written by a native German speaker in English back into German for publication in an Austrian periodical. The English version of the article had already been distributed, but it could have benefitted from editing by a native English speaker.

This is where translators who work into English come in: not only can we improve the sometimes awkward English text, but if phrases or sentences are unclear, we can retranslate them back into the language in which the writer was probably thinking (in my case German) and deduce the likely intended meaning from there. When editing these types of documents, however, we need to keep in mind that the documents’ audience will be mostly composed of non-native English speakers.

Editing English text written by and/or for non-native English speakers could become an additional service translators can provide. To be successful in this type of work we must educate ourselves about how to write for such an audience. One of the resources I used in preparing my presentations on this topic at last year’s Society for Technical Communication Summit in Chicago and tekom’s tcworld conference was John  R. Kohl’s The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market. This book has become something of a standard reference for people who write for non-native English speakers.

Other resources include “global audience” sections of various style guides, as well as articles about global English. I developed a short resource list, which I will be happy to send to you if you e-mail me your contact details (and are not spamming this blog).

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