A structural approach to translation quality


When I first started translating, my quality criteria was to understand the document, find the right terminology and send the translation on time. Seriously, it was a huge effort on my side to understand the text. I don’t know how many nights passed with little if any sleep to meet the next urgent job’s deadline. Judging by the posts of junior translators on Facebook, I think young colleagues are going through a similar path.

Well here is a bunch of advice from someone who has been there before.

1. Context vs structure

Trying to understand the context is a must and will make you a better translator. But if you want to be one of the best, you need to master in sentence structure. No kidding. Every language has its own rules for syntax or word order. And you know what, a lot of translators follow word by word; they do not have the guts or skills to transform the source sentence with a new structure in the target language. It takes time to learn sentence structures in your second language. Be patient and focus on structure. If your target language is English, focus on splitting long sentences, reducing relative clauses, replacing nouns with verbs, etc. Books like Diana Hacker’s are full of useful advice.

2. Essentials vs non-essentials

Some words are essential and you have to translate them correctly; some words are not essential and you can either drop them or simply play with them. Take connecting phrases for example; “in accordance with, accordingly, according to, etc.” aren’t they replaceable? The purpose of a connecting phrases is to provide logical and verbal bridge within a paragraph. Your task is to translate the bridge not the bricks. If you excel in filtering essential words, your sentences will flow naturally. And guess what, your clients will pay you more because your sentences will become more fluent.

3. Meaning vs usage

It might mean “to begin” or “to end”, but let’s explore a little bit futher. Perhaps it is more common to use “kick-off” for a campaign, and “terminate” for an agreement. You may think you are translating correctly, and in many occasions, the meaning may be just right. However, proper usage will give you a mature and native sound. Modern English has one million words. Don’t be shy and wield the power of words.

4. Eyes vs tools

You may have the most meticulous error-eye and be proud for catching every little typo. Does it worth spending hours proofreading for mechanical errors? No, it doesn’t. Discover the power of QA tools. They are good, they are fast. You can even add your own style filters, terminology, TM and many more to some of them. There are some pretty cool stuff out there. Learn how to use them and your clients will love you for consistent and error-free work.

5. Domain vs global

It is a good idea to stay away from massive vocabulary demanding domains; i.e. medicine and law for a few years, until you master in research, structure, style and tools. It may sound a better idea to specialize in one or two domains. But you need to avoid a common misconception; words are not prisoners, they do not belong to a particular domain. I mean, hundreds of words you learn in medical translation, also have other usages. “Toxic” is a good example. There are toxic gases, toxic people and even toxic financial assets. Do not let specialization to compartmentalize your brain. If you can de-compartmentalize your vocabulary, your sentences will read more natural.

Now, if you agree with most of the above and want to develop your skills, focus on clear writing. There are so many resources on the internet for better writing.

Good luck.


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