There is a frequent statement directed towards translators by people who don’t understand how translating works and it goes something like this: “What’s the big deal, you just transfer every word into another language. Just use Google Translate and there you go!” Well, we could do that, if a client wants a poor-quality translation which does not sound natural or even make sense.

Speaking two languages is not the same as knowing how to translate. The process of translating is a lengthy one, with the translator really having to use their noggin. Join us through the journey of translating in order to reach the art of invisibility.

Considering the Meaning

The thing is, regardless of the improvement of technology, high-quality translations are done by a person going through a text word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, trying to find the perfect equivalent. More often than not, there are phrases that simply do not have a counterpart in the target language. This mostly happens with idioms, which can be quite bizarre:

British English: Bob’s your uncle!

Meaning: and there it is/there you have it, typically used to say “everything is alright” or when a result is reached.

Croatian: Vidjet ćemo čija majka crnu vunu plete.

Translation: We will see whose mother is spinning black wool.

Meaning: We will see who will end up badly.

Spanish: Tirar la case por la ventana.

Translation: To throw the house out the window.

Meaning: To spare no expenses.

For each of these, the translator needs to spend a certain amount of time to find the expression suitable to replace it in the target language. They try to understand the meaning as a whole and create a sentence which will sound natural. Even some simple expressions, such as “je m’appelle Josh” in French, cannot be literally translated as “I call myself Josh”, but as “my name is Josh”. And it makes a big difference. At least if you want a coherent translation.

Considering the Author

It’s impossible to translate the text correctly if you don’t understand the author’s perspective. Who are they addressing, in what way and what is the point of the text are only some of the questions in need of answering before starting the translation process. It’s the translator’s job to adjust and create a translation which captures the spirit of the original text.

Considering the Client

There are, however, situations when the client has specific demands and requires a different approach to the translation. This may vary, from using specific tools to using certain words and phrases. It’s a translator’s job to respect their client’s wishes.

This entire process leads to the creation of a superior translation. After stopping at all the aforesaid stations throughout this journey, it would be a shame if the translator broke the illusion of it actually being a translation. Since it’s a known thing that the best translation is the one which is read as if it were an original, being the invisible translator is what one should aspire to be. The irony of it all is that nobody notices the invisible translator. If a translation is read like an original, nobody will acknowledge the person creating it in such a way. In other words, the better the translation, the less likely the translator is to be remembered. People tend to recollect the poor translations and huge (sometimes funny) errors, and with it the person who made it such.

And that is the reality of translators. Crazy deadlines with no appreciation.

It’s a good thing we love what we do.

There is no denying the fact that deadlines are extremely important when it comes to the quality of translation projects. However, many clients require large translation projects to be completed in an impossible amount of time.

Why does this happen?

Many companies work on a project and find themselves in need of a translation. In many cases, their own project has a short deadline, therefore they need the translation to be done ASAP so they could continue working on the project. If the translation is late or faulty, the whole project is affected. This is one of many examples where translation projects with unrealistically short deadlines might turn up. What clients do not understand is that translation takes time.

It is not at all unusual to get an inquiry for a very technical translation project of some 20 000 words with a deadline set for the next day at 11 a.m. It can be done, but likely at a high cost, and we are not even talking about finance here. No translator, or a group of translators, would be able to make a high-quality translation in such a short amount of time. High-quality translations require careful research, appropriate terminology and, most of all, proper editing, especially after several translators had worked on a single project.

However, there are cases in which the deadline for a large translation project can be met. The questions are: how can this be done, and how does this affect translation quality?

Translation quality

It all really depends on the organization of the translation project. If several translators are working on the same project individually, with no mutual communication or project glossaries, the translation will inevitably be of poor quality. Different terms will be used by different translators and the differences in their styles of translation will be obvious. This will result in an enormous amount of work for the editor.

Make sure translators communicate during the translation process

If an agency decides to accept a big project with a short deadline, more often than not, several translators need to work on it. In such cases, communication among translators is essential. Translators can exchange information on certain terms and concepts or point each other towards useful resources for the translation project. Also, they are able match their styles of translation to a certain extent. Moreover, creating a project-specific glossary of terms is also of great help when dealing with an urgent translation project that involves several translators. All of this is important to ensure consistent use of terminology throughout the text and decrease the time needed to complete the task.

Ask the client for a translation memory or previous similar translations, if possible

If the client is able to provide a translation memory, this may be extremely helpful, especially if dealing with a translation project that requires extensive research regarding terminology. Translation memories can be uploaded to a CAT tool directly and improve the translation process. However, if all the client can provide are examples of previous similar translations, this can be helpful in terms of acquiring proper terminology and context for the current translation.

Leave enough time for editing

Plan the translation project to leave enough time for careful editing. This may decrease the short translation deadline even more; however attentive editing always results in a higher quality translation. When a large translation project is done in a short period of time, especially by several translators, some errors will most likely remain after the translation process. The editor can then correct those mistakes and adjust the style of writing and make it consistent throughout the text. The better the communication between translators during the translation process, the less work there is for the editor.

Clients are not always familiar with the way a translation project is carried out and often set unrealistic deadlines. When translation agencies decide to undertake such a feat and deal with the client’s request in the best way possible, several things are required to achieve the necessary translation quality: several translators need to work on the project, they need to communicate and use all available resources, and, finally, there must be enough time for the editor to “touch up” the translation. This way, urgent translations can be done to a satisfactory level. Still, whenever possible, it is best to negotiate with the client and get a deadline appropriate for the task at hand.