What is ‘quality’ in translation?
As with any complex technical process, different people often have very different ideas about what makes for a good translation.
Keep in mind that there is often no ‘exact match’ for concepts in one language in another. Despite what many people think, a literal word-for-word translation does not guarantee accuracy.
- It is generally considered easier and less contentious to evaluate the translation of a technical document – a user manual, for example – than something less precise, such as marketing copy. In the case of the user manual, there are certain qualities or standards that most people agree on – that technical terms be translated in accordance with industry usage, for example, or that the name of piece of equipment is translated in the same way each time.
- If a piece of equipment is translated in different ways within the same text, or something is referred to using obsolete terminology, it is easy to say ‘this is wrong: change it.’
- With marketing copy, however, we move into more subjective territory.
- Now, anyone who has ever worked in marketing or publicity knows very well that a simple slogan can sometimes take weeks of discussion to arrive at. The wording of a brochure or a press release can be even more problematic. A team spends considerable time hammering out the text, debating key words and approaches, settling on the right images and layout and so on, and then the manager gets out his red pen and it’s back to square one.
When the finished document appears in the project manager’s inbox, it is sometimes easy for the person who has to give final clearance to miss the point; the fact that something is phrased in a certain way is probably the product of weeks of debate and compromise, not a spur-of-the-moment decision. And more often than not a late stage correction will reflect a preference on the part of the project manager or reviewer rather than an error on the part of the original writer(s).
In any case, the point not to be missed here is that the complexity of the decision-making process which led to the final version of the text is reflected in the process of translating it.
Continue reading What is ‘Quality’ in Translation? Part 2