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What if it’s a bad translation?

Or, “it just doesn’t sound right to me…”

A translator’s lot is sometimes not an easy one. There are some professions — heart surgeon, physicist, deep-sea diver — which generate a sense of impenetrable expertise. No-one would dream of offering a neurophysicist their ten cents’ worth on the best way to go about thalamic deep brain stimulation, or telling an architect that his axonometric projection is off-centre.

But there is something about translation. Possibly because we work with communication — a field in which all human beings are (or consider themselves) de facto experts. When companies outsource to a Translation Agency, it’s very common to hear comments like “I would do it myself, but I don’t have time”. It seems there is a tendency to see translators as people who do work, which everyone else would be perfectly capable of doing, if only they were a bit less busy. However, this is a bit like assuming because you are a good driver, you naturally know how build an engine.

This attitude conceals a lack of understanding which professional translators find very frustrating. The fact is that translation is a specialised skill, and professional translators will have spent as much time studying and training as any other professional. And yet, most translators have, at some point, received criticism from someone with no translation experience, who often doesn’t even speak the target language of the translation in question.

At QuickSilver, our favourite in this genre is the customer who sent an irate email accusing us of using Google Translate to translate his document. Why? Because he knew that “make up” is something women put on their face, so the phrase “the make up of the committee…” was obviously a terrible mistranslation.

As with all the practitioners of crafts which have been gradually downgraded from ‘professions’ to ‘services’, the translator is often defenceless in the face of this sort of criticism. Sometimes the only option is to bite our tongues and explain that, whilst the internet is awash with cowboys and amateurs, a respectable Translation Agency like QuickSilver Translate will use only experienced and specialised professional translators (all of whom only translate into their native languages), will never use internet translation engines, and will have a stringent review system which guarantees not only that the translation itself is of the highest possible quality, but also that it is phrased in an appropriate style or register.

Professional translators are skilled and experienced linguists. They will repay your confidence.

Find out more: Metrics for Evaluating Translations

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