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

What Can I Do to Help My Translators Do a Better Job?

In this series I addressed pricing and timing questions, technical issues, such as file formats and questions about quality assurance. Now that you have some background on how we translators work, here are some ideas to help us do a better job.

  1. Internationalize source text
  2. Proof source text to ensure consistency
  3. Provide comprehensive glossary verified by in-country reviewers
  4. Provide background material
  5. Set realistic deadlines


1. Internationalize source text

If the source document has been edited for an international audience, the translator will not have to research regionalisms or convert measurements. The less time a translator has to spend on such details, the faster he or she can work and the fewer opportunities for misunderstanding (and resulting mistranslation) there are. Internationalization means removing cultural references, expressing dates and measurements in an international format, replacing country-specific information, etc. Such editing tends to shorten the text and often also clarifies ambiguities. A shorter text costs less to translate (see Tighten source text in my post “What Can I Do to Reduce That Cost?“), and unambiguous text saves you time, which you would otherwise have to spend to answer the translator’s questions.


2. Proof source text to ensure consistency

If it is called a heater in the introduction, a boiler in the body text and a furnace in the appendix, there is no way for the translator to know whether these terms all refer to the same heating system or to three different systems. The resulting translation could well confuse the reader, if, in fact, the same system was meant in all three instances. Similarly, make sure headline and subhead treatment (all capitals, title case, sentence case, font size) is consistent throughout the source text. If it is not, the translator won’t know which sections are subordinate and which are introductory, etc., which could affect how crossreferences to other sections of the text are translated, for example. The same is true for writing style, voice, etc. If the source text is not consistent with regard to any of these aspects, the translation will not be consistent, either.


3. Provide comprehensive glossary verified by in-country reviewers

If you can provide a comprehensive, verified bi- (or multi-)lingual glossary, translators do not have to research that terminology. This means they can work faster and thus deliver the translation within a shorter timeframe. Other benefits of such a glossary are that the terminology used for the current project will be consistent with previous translations and that your preferred terms, rather than possible alternatives, will be used.


4. Provide background material

The more the translator knows about the context in which this particular document will be used and the terminology used in related documents, the better a job he or she can do. The same is true for information about the expected audience, such as how familiar readers of the document are likely to be with the product or industry in question. Provide previous translations of similar or related documents, any relevant translation memories or glossaries, internal lists of acronyms, and any other information you think might be helpful. More is better here. If the translator does not need the particular information, he or she can easily disregard it.


5. Set realistic deadlines

Freelance translators often work on several projects with varying deadlines at the same time. If you need your translation very quickly, the translator has to either get the deadline on another project extended or work very late into the night to accommodate your project. Needless to say, productivity and accuracy drop off even for the best translator, if he or she is working 12-hour days to turn your translation around in a very short time. Short deadlines also leave the translator with less time for research or editing, so the translation may not be as good as it could be. I have found – and other writers and translators corroborate this – that letting 12-24 hours elapse between the first draft and subsequent editing of the translation significantly improves the quality of the text. That, however, is not possible, if I am expected to provide the translation the same day or early the next morning.

In previous posts, I looked at a number of other questions that arise before and during the translation process. A Documentation Manager’s Questions About Translation lists the topics covered in all of the posts in this series. If the series was helpful in preparing for your next translation project, let me know in the comments below. If you still have questions about the process, ask in the comments below.

4 Comments

  • Posted November 19, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    #2 and #3 are why I love legal translation so much—especially contracts. They come with built-in defined Terms and often very regularly structured language. It’s the best! (And trust me, before I picked my specialty, I never thought I’d say that…)

    • Posted November 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Carolyn,
      Thanks for your comment. You’re certainly right about the terminology, although I find legal language sometimes rather convoluted. Defined terms and structured language are also often found in technical material, which is why I prefer that specialization.

  • Kathy Quinn
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Great advice for translation buyers.

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