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Contrary maybe to your experience, getting a good quality translation is not a Russian roulette game…. I put three bullets in the 6-bullet cylinder, I have a good 50/50 chance surviving pulling the trigger…. I did my due diligence when selecting my translator/translation agency, I can be reasonably certain of the successful outcome….


Maybe. But leaving things to chance does not bode well for your final satisfaction. In fact, empirical data show that the editing time spent on any translation does not increase/decrease in linear proportions with the quality (or lack thereof) of the job done.


My personal experience over the last 15 years taught me that compared with a good translation job, a mediocre one will drastically increase the time I spend proofreading/editing it, whatever the number of actual translation errors found in the document!


But why?


The mechanism is a simple one: as the proofreader/editor notices that translation errors are a bit too numerous for his/her own comfort, his/her attention cannot help but zeroing in on the possibility of further errors. His/her critique becomes unforgiving. Gradually, he/she rewrites larger and larger chunks of the copy. What might have be considered acceptable quality to start with becomes less and less acceptable. More “has” to be rewritten. Even on purely subjective grounds of perceived style improprieties.More about Translation Agencies UK


In quite the opposite way, an editor correcting a generally well-written and technically accurate translation will become less and less keen to superimpose his/her own indiosyncrasies on the translation job: “Mmmh, I wouldn’t have written it this way, but it’s correct”. Or in other terms, the editor tends to go by the rule “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.


Based on this, how can you avoid the pitfalls of translator selection?


The 8 rules


I found out of experience that any translation effort will fail in the absence of 8 crucial factors. No hat trick here, just plain old hit-and-miss experience acquired in the course of the last fifteen years in the business of translating financial research.


What are those eight factors?


Give a specialized job to a specialized translator

Know your translator’s experience

Small specialized translation businesses will often do a better job

Your translator must team with an editor

Share your own knowledge

Ask for a glossary

Allow your translator enough time to do a good job

Cost may be an issue, but your time is often more costly

(For a detailed explanation of these factors, click here: 8 Rules to Select and Work with the Right Translator.)


Any failure in a translation job can be traced back to a breach of one or several of these rules.


How does it work?


Pick the fourth one, for instance Your translator must team with an editor.


Translating is NOT a machine job. Your translator can make errors. He may be tired. He may be rushed. He may not get a sentence right.


The editor is here to pick up the pieces. Correct those awkward sentences. Straighten out too loose a style, adjust the terminology.


A good editor will make a world of difference when the translation has been done right, but not 100% right. For you, the difference can be measured in terms of hours of work saved, increased productivity and avoided aggravation.


In other words, this awful mess you were delivered by your translator might have been avoided if you had checked whether the guy would team with an editor of comparable knowledge.


Too simple?


Granted, this is not the only factor of the equation. In fact, the two most powerful factors of differentiation between a good and a bad translation job are:


Does your translator know your business well enough?

Does he/she have a good grasp of grammar?

That’s where Rules #1 and # 2 kick in.


In the absence of specialization, you have NO guarantee that your translator understands your business. A non-specialized translator (or one who believes he can be specialized in 10 disrelated subjects) will ALWAYS require more editing and more correcting than a specialized translator.


On the other hand, you can deal with someone hyper-specialized in your business, who has such average command of grammar in his/her own language that expressing ideas articulately in another language is just out of his/her reach.


So you are faced with a simple modus operandi: check your translator’s background in your business, as well as his/her command of the language.


A tricky selection trick


A few years ago, a friend of mine was looking for a highly paid consultant position with an IT corporation. I witnessed several of the interviews occurring on the phone between himself and CIOs. One technique which was employed by several of his prospective employers consisted in testing his knowledge of programming with very direct questions. “What do you call a xxxxx?”. “If this happens, what do you do?”, “How would you solve this bug?”, and so forth. Obviously, the faster and the more accurate he was in his answers, the higher his chances to land the job.


From this, I derived a very simple test to conduct when considering to hire a translator for a project. Our translations business specializes in law and finance. Translators applying for a position with us represent that they have a solid background in either of these two subject areas. To measure the depth of their knowledge, I ask them to define some technical words.


Tricky, but it works very well for a simple reason: oftentimes, translators assume they know a subject because they looked up several times the translation of a technical term in a translation dictionary. Their knowledge of the word is limited to its translation, not its real definition.


A translation is not a definition


Yet, to understand fully any subject one deals with, one must master its nomenclature ¾ i.e. those terms which belong to the subject. Failing to know what “P/E” (Price/Earnings ratio) really means in a stock exchange context, the translator will miss the significance of any technical discussion around the level of a particular P/E.


To a financial translator applying for a position at our firm, I’ll ask, cunningly: “Could you tell me what a P/E is, and what does it measure?”. If the translator just gives me the translation of it, no definition and no explanation of the use of a P/E, I know that his/her education in stock market terminology is flawed. It tells me that the translator will have trouble down the road with any technically complex analysis of a particular stock.


For whom the bells toll


In turn, this will result in an inaccurate translation or even worse, a translation which looks acceptable at first sight, but when closely edited by a knowledgeable specialist, will reveal numerous flaws and require a major rewriting effort.


To get back to the first lines of this article, when such a flawed job lands on your desk, you are in for some aggravation. The job may look good, but a close inspection will turn your hair white prematurely, and sound the death knell of your weekend. After all, you gotta get this document translated, don’t you?


Remember the old saying: “Better safe than sorry”? Well, it is my considerate advice to you to follow the 8 Rules, and find easy ways to test your translator’s knowledge.


Hope you save yourself unnecessary work and trouble.