No professional translator is free from learning new tools and new ways of translating better. That is why I would like to offer some tips for translators before they do their work, while they translate and after they finish their translation and send it to a client…. if they want to work for one the best translation agencies.
For many translation agencies or translation companies (better known as language service providers), the translation process for a client involves several steps that often freelance translators are not aware of. We find that translators who have spent some time as trainees at our translation company and have familiarised themselves with all the processes required and quality standards that need to be followed to become better freelance translators, and their approach is more serious and professional than those who have landed in the profession through other means. There is much more to translation than simply typing in a foreign language and using one or two translation memory tools. A professional translation service typically requires both a revision (or edition) and proof-reading. These are two essential stages that need to take place before we can say a document is ready for delivery to the client.
Translation Standard EN15038 states that a professional service must follow those checking steps independently. This means that the translator cannot be the person that revises the translation (the editor) and the proof-reader must be a third person, too. This is not often practical due to time constraints and the first translator becomes the proof-reader after the editor’s comments -but nevertheless, a quality checking stage has to take place. But how can you do this if you are a freelancer? If you are a freelance translator, you should incorporate a checking step before delivery and never send the work to your client without having checked it beforehand. It is complicated sometimes to ask colleagues that they invest their precious time in reading your work or checking your terminology. They are busy, too, after all. But no translator should really work in isolation. Times have changed since the advent of translation memories and related tools which make our work more accurate. Nowadays, translators have a wealth of data on the internet at the press of a button. So reading their work before delivery and using tools like XBench or QA Distiller for large jobs is a must when they handle many files and they have to offer coherence across them.
The point is that when clients and even us, translators, talk about “translation”, we do so meaning the whole process, when translation involves a first step in the process, which is generally also known as TEP (Translation-Editing-Proofreading). Pangeanic places a lot of importance in quality at the source and thus delivering a quality translation from the start is essential for the other steps to run smoothly.
We have put together 12 tips for translators which should help a translation professional deliver a high quality translation service and thus reduce inefficient and time-consuming steps and queries:
Tips for Translators
- Make sure you revise the document(s) and the files before starting a translation. Understand any instructions that come with the job: they show you the way in which the translation must be approached. You do not call a plumber to fix a flood and leave your house without a shower. Ensure that all the files and documents the client needs are the ones you have received.
- Make sure that you are comfortable with the subject matter and language style and confirm this to the Translation Project Manager. Whilst you may take on translations in fields in which you are not an expert for the sake of expanding your business, it will take you more time to master the terminology and you will have to invest time in doing so. There is nothing wrong with it, but be aware that your own quality checking and revision become even more important. Sadly, there may be some subjects for which you are simply not qualified or you are not good at. It is OK. Professional translators specialise in a few subjects and, in time, they become so good at them that they hardly take on anything outside their sphere or expertise.
- Make sure you are familiar with the file format. If you are working for a translation company, the files will come quite probably in a translation-friendly format and with a translation memory. Do not change the CAT tool your client has specified. There is no worse feeling for Translation Project Managers than receiving a file whose contents they have to rework because of bad formatting. You may have saved some money using a tool that promises full compatibility with this and that format, but if you have not tried it yourself and the original format is heavily formatted, you end up risking Project Manager’s good time and risking a relationship. They will have to reconstruct the whole file and no matter how good your translation was, wasted time can never be recovered. You risk losing a client.
- Use any reference material, style guides, glossaries and terminology databases. Never ignore any glossary that has been sent to you. If the client has created a database, use it. If it is a simple excel file, you know all tools can import this format into a CAT tool and csv can create a glossary file in seconds. It is essential that you are consistent in terminology and style with previous work. Quite often, you will not be the first translator involved in a publication process. One-time translation buyers are few and far between and if you want to succeed in business as a translator, you want regular, paying clients and recurrent income. It may be the first time you are translating a particular piece or set of files. It may be the first time you are translating for a particular client, but they surely have bought translation services before and they expect consistency in style and terminology.
- Contact immediate your Translation Project Manager if you find any problems with the translation memory or the glossary. Previous translators may have not followed it or perhaps they had a bad day. If there are any quality issues with the material you have been provided with and you do not know whether to follow the translation memory or the glossary, contact the Translation Project Manager and let them know there is a problem with the source. If this is not possible, because of time constraints, follow what has been done before, even if your personal style and personal preferences are different. Take note in a separate file of any terminology issues and comments while you are working. You will not feel like doing that or going over the errors once you have finished the translation. Let the Translation Project Manager know what has happened. Remember, feedback is always appreciated and it helps to build quality and improvements in the process. You will score many points in front of your Translation Project Manager’s eyes and you will build a reputation for yourself as a serious, quality-conscientious translator.
- Contact your Translation Project Manager or client immediately if you encounter or foresee any problems with the document, with the format, with the word count or with the delivery time.
- Identify relevant reference sources on the Internet for the subject you are going to translate. If you are going to translate technical documentation for bicycles, find the brand’s website in your language. The manufacturer’s competitors are often a source of good terminology and style. If you are translating medical devices, you are sure to find some relevant material in related websites. Have all this ready before you begin to translate. It is called “background work”. And it pays, in the short and in the long run. It is like doing a reference check. Would you accept work from a client who you know nothing about? Would you meet in real life someone you know nothing about without dwelving a little bit into who the person really is beforehand? Don’t companies do a reference check on freelance translators and personnel they want to employ? So, have or other online resources specific to the topic you are translating at hand for easy reference. And, more importantly, become a researcher of the topics you specialise in as a freelancer. Prepare yourself for a day without internet when you have no connection to the online sources of information– yet you still have time to deliver.
- When you have finished your translation, run your spellchecker and correct any misspellings and typos. Now is time to become your own editor and read over the document comparing it to the original. Read again without looking at the source text to make sure that it makes sense. Readers will not have access to your source material and, frankly speaking, they do not care the text was translated and how it was translated. They want to read natively in their language and you, the translator, are the bridge. Your version has to read as if it had been written originally in your language, free of literal translations and cumbersome expressions that are directly transferred and there are no errors.
- Check your translation against the source for any missing text or formatting issues. Most CAT tools include QA features as standard within their software. Each tool offers different features, but they all are good at detecting untranslated segments, source same as target, and even missing or wrong numbers. If your CAT tool only offers basic checking procedures or you want to run more in-depth checks, my recommendation is to use XBench. You can even load translation memories and check their consistency, check formatting and coherence across files, missing translations and “suspect translations” where the different source segments have generated the same translation (perhaps an error accepting a translation memory match), or vice versa, when a single source file has generated multiple translations. Your clients will certainly appreciate this.
- Do not be literal. Translation buyers and readers never appreciate translations that sounds “corseted”, a word-for-word carbon copy of a foreign language. It is no acceptable. Unless if you are translating technical material, expressions and twists seldom translate literally from one language to another. Technical material may include pharma translations, engineering, translations for the automotive sector, medical translations, software translation, patents, etc. Accuracy and precision are more appreciated than beauty in legal translations. Many examples and references may seem very relevant and clear to the original writer, but not to the target audience. Some years ago, British Prime Minister put Japanese translators on freeze mode when he announced on a visit to Japan that he was prepared to go “The Full Monty” on his economic policies. The film had not been released in Japan. Website translations, any type of books and literature, news and newsclips, CVs, all require beauty of expression and flow that only come with a “neutral approach to translation”. You have to distance yourself from your work, edit and proof it from a critical point of view. You should always look at your translation as if it were the final product. You offer a professional translation service and each one of your clients is unique. Do not count on editors or proofreaders to fix your unchecked work and your mistakes. Nobody likes to correct other people’s lack of care.
- Be sure to run your spellchecker again. It will take a couple of minutes if everything is fine. A small typo may have been added during your revisions and it would destroy all the quality steps you have undertaken until now.
- Remember to include any notes or comments for your client or for the editors about your translation with your file delivery. A blank delivery with your signature, or a “please find files attached” shows little interaction with your client. It may signal that if you do not have time to write two lines about the delivery of the project… well you probably did not have time to do any quality check at all. Thank the Translation Project Manager for work and look forward to the next one. If there are certainly no issues to talk about, say clearly the job went smoothly. Perhaps the translation memory was very good or in the absence of it, you felt very comfortable and enjoyed doing a translation in your field of expertise.
If you have found some problems and issues, these are better listed in a separate document and attached to the delivery. Tell your Translation Project Manager to refer to them. There may have been a reason why you chose a particular translation or a term or you had to deviate from standard terminology or the glossary in your language. However, if you do not warn in advance, editors will assume that there is an error and this will lead to time wasting in both sides. The editors and checkers will start to find unexpected translations or terms and, with no explanation, a series of unproductive queries will follow.