How to Make a Good Translation

May 10, 2012 by totalityservices

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How to Make a Good Translation

Below are some basic rules for making a good translation aimed at linguists working in the translation industry. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a starting point for whoever wants to develop a career in translation and is not familiar with the do’s and don’t’s of the job.

1. Love your job

Translation involves a lot of research work, meaning that no matter which subject you choose to specialise in, you will need to read a lot about it! For instance, any medical translator should be expected to be familiar with the latest medical advances and to read several articles a week from the Lancet, the British Journal of Medicine, etc. As they become more familiar not only with the content but with the style itself, this will help make the translation read more naturally in the target language.

2. It’s not the size that matters

Many translators specialise in legal, financial, medical or technical translations. However, as agencies we often find that it is more helpful to work with translators whose field of expertise is even more specific than the ones listed above.

For instance, if we have an article to translate about total mastectomy, and one of our translators specialises in breast cancer, it is likely that this person will do a better job than another translator who merely specialises in medical texts.

In relation to point 1 above, the breast cancer translator will be more familiar than the other one with texts related specifically to this area, which will guarantee a smooth translation and quality assurance process.

3. You’re talking to me??

Even though the content of the message is likely to be the same, the tone and style used, including the choice of terminology and grammar, will vary tremendously depending on whether you are translating for a teen magazine or a well-established international newspaper. Always try to get as much information as possible from your client before undertaking any translation work. What constitutes a good translation for one audience may well be a mediocre one for another.

4. Think team work

Even the best of translators are likely to forget a comma somewhere in a text, or to make a typo. It is often hard to distance yourself from a text that you have written, and that is when you should get a second opinion of your work.

After all, a good translation is a written piece of work, on the same level as an article written for a newspaper or a novel to be published, and both article and novel would be read by an editor before publication, so why should your translation not be?

5. See the big picture

It is very easy to focus on a specific translation problem the first time you encounter it, such as an unknown word or expression, or a sentence the meaning of which you are not sure you fully grasp. Rather than immersing yourself in that problem, and trying to read as much as possible on that specific part of the text to try and understand it better, take a step back, relax, and read the remainder of the text. This will give you some distance from the problem you are experiencing, and more often than not you will find the explanation you are looking for later on in the document.

6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Keep your deadlines realistic. You don’t want to take on too much work, to the risk of delivering a poor quality translation, rather than the good translation that you want to produce. Making silly mistakes because of over exhaustion is very common when working on a freelance basis, so make sure that you allocate yourself some time everyday to do things that you enjoy, go out, and spend time with your friends and family.

7. Do not overlook babytalk

Not everyone knows that the luxury department store Fauchon is the French equivalent of Fortnum and Mason. When translating a text that contains such idiomatic references, do not forget to include either a translator’s note or a comment, to help the reader find a reference that they will understand.

And remember the key rule, coined by the poet Ezra Pound: “Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.”

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