27 February, 2011

Defining Translators: LANE 462, FA + HA, Term 2- Year 2011- Lecture 2

Defining Translators


Translation means the transfer of written messages from one language to another, while interpreting refers to the transfer of spoken messages. Sometimes 'translation' is used as a generic term covering both practices, but when hiring someone's services it will be less confusing if you distinguish between these different skills.

  • Give you access to documents written in a language you don't understand
  • Enable you to communicate your views in another language
  • Enhance the image of your company or organization by producing a professional document that is accurate and uses a style and terminology that are consistent and appropriate for your target audience
  • Help sell your products or services and ensure that a bad translation does not compromise your reputation or the quality of your products or service
  • Save you money by reducing the number of errors in your documents and eliminating delays and the need for expensive patch-up jobs later
  • Save you the worry and problems that arise from working with amateurs
  •  Save you from possible embarrassment by pointing out any problems in cross-cultural communication.
If you care about the quality of the end product, it is essential to use a professional translator rather than somebody who simply has a knowledge of two languages.


  • A sophisticated understanding of the foreign language

  • An ability to transfer ideas expressed in one language into an equally meaningful form in the other language

  •  An above-average capacity to write well in the target language (the language in which the translation is written), using language appropriate for the topic and readership

  •  Broad general knowledge

  • A sound knowledge of the two cultures involved

  •  Mental agility

  • Sensitivity and attention to detail

  •  An understanding of specialized terminology in the field of the translation and a willingness to do further research if necessary

  • Training or experience.
Translation is more than just a mechanical exercise in looking up words in a dictionary and substituting the grammatical constructions of one language for those of another. Often there is no one-to-one equivalence between words in different languages - for instance, a particular word might have different emotional connotations in the other language. A professional translator will be aware of these potential difficulties and know how to cope with them.

Accuracy, logic and clarity in expression are key characteristics of a good translation, along with an appropriate tone and level of language (e.g., level of formality or technicality). On-time delivery is also essential. Above all, a translation must fulfill the function you require of it. With a translation for use in court, accuracy will be of paramount importance, even if the translation reads somewhat awkwardly, whereas with texts for publication it is vital that the translation reads smoothly. Tell the translator about your needs, what and who the translation is for, and what you expect the final product to look like. This won't take a minute, but could save you a great deal of money and frustration and will help ensure a good translation.


It is very rare for a translator to be able to translate equally well in both directions, even if both languages are spoken fluently. Writing well, with correct grammar and full expressiveness, requires particular skills and greater expertise than spoken fluency. In general, a translator working into his or her native language is less likely to make grammatical errors, and is more likely to be able to produce text in the desired style of the target language and/or market. Conversely, a translator working from his or her native language is less likely to make mistakes in comprehension of the source text, but is more likely to make grammatical errors and to be limited in his or her command of syntax and style in producing the translation. This is not a hard and fast rule, however, as some non-native writers are indeed capable of producing fine text, and even native readers may on occasion misunderstand the source text they are reading. In addition, in certain specialized fields it is simply not possible to find a good translator who is a native speaker of the target language and has the requisite field-specific knowledge to understand the topic.

How much will it cost?

• Translators normally charge based on either the length of the source text or the length of the target text.
• The billing unit varies from translator to another (e.g., per word, 100 or 1,000 words, character, byte, line or page)
• Qualified translators cost more, but paying less means incomplete work with weaknesses.

 How long will it take?
• The time varies from a translator to another

• The average is 10 pages a day

• However, specialized translators are expected to work more rapidly

 Is it acceptable for the translator to make changes to the text?

• Slight changes are acceptable as long as the intended meaning is conveyed
• Beside the intended meaning, making the text more suitable for the target audience allows slight changes according to the target culture to avoid communication breakdown caused by cultural differences
• On the other hand, there shouldn't be major changes between the two texts.

 Should the translation be checked?

• If the translator does not have a full written competence, the translation is better checked by a native speaker.
• Even with natives, having a second ‘checker’ is advisable for more accuracy
• Beside being a native speaker, the ‘checker’ should be an experienced translator or editor to monitor the work.
• If the translation is for publication, having a professional ‘checker’ is necessary
• For legal purposes, the translator can provide a notarized statement that the translation is true and accurate to the best of his or her knowledge.

 Selecting a freelance translator

To select a regular translator, his/her qualifications, and his/her linguistic & subject expertise should be ascertained through the following procedure:

 to keep an eye out for good translations in a related field and track down the translator if possible

 to ask potential translators for references or samples of work they have already done (both source &target texts)

 to have prospective translators do a half-page sample text, then show the translation to a language-sensitive native speaker of the target language

 to verify the translator’s capabilities through cross-checks and on-going checks.

Working with a translation company

• Translation companies offer additional services and quality control, and have the facilities to provide camera-ready artwork and can handle large volumes, tight deadlines and complex or unusual subjects.

• However, some translation companies rely on both freelance and in-house translators, so a person should be careful when selecting the company.

• Translation companies are more expensive than working with a translator directly.

• It is recommended to be consistent in working with a specific company.

 Helping your translator helps you

The more preparation and corporation a person does with his /her translator, the better the outcome is:

1. Before assigning the work to a translator

 Take a particular care the original text is written clearly and unambiguously

 Don’t send a document till the prospective translator is available

 Show the translator the actual document in advance

 Provide clearly legible text (i.e. not a handwritten copy or a third generation faxes, etc.)

 If the material is to be published, agree on who will do the proofreading (the translator or a third party?)

2. Information to provide the translator

 Brief your translator on the purpose of the translation (e.g. whether it is for information, publication, etc.)

 Clearly mark any sections that are not to be translated

 Let the translator know if the terminology should confirm to any specific requirement

 Provide the translator with as much background material as possible (e.g. related correspondence, specifications, relevant web site details)

 Inform the translator of any particular style that should be followed.

 Brief the translator fully on any particular layout requirements (i.e. handling of tables and diagrams)

 Inform the translator of any software requirements (e.g. preferred word-processing)

 Provide sufficient context (not a list of isolated items or an extract from a text)

 Provide any drawings, illustrations, table or graphs that may help explain the rest of the text.

 Give the name and the number of a contact person in case the translator needs to clarify something

 Let the translator know if the source text and the reference material should be returned.

3. Deadlines and financial arrangements

 Allow sufficient time in the documentation schedule for translation

 Agree on a realistic deadline before the translator starts working.

 The translator may be better paid for the time involved, and not for the length

 Decide whether the translation is for information purposes only or publication, and allocate the budget accordingly (i.e. the former is less expensive)

 Agree on financial arrangements in advance

4. General tips

 Understand that if translators ask you questions, it does not mean they are incompetent.

 Don’t try to economize by asking your translator to compromise on quality

 Beware of splitting large jobs between several different translators.

 With translated text that is for publication, it is a good idea to show the proofs to the translator before going to press.

 B willing to give feedback once the job has been completed.

What about format qualifications for translators?
Qualified translators are one of the following:

• those who have studied translation courses academically

• those who have professional and technical background

• those who pass the accreditation test

• those who have experience in a particular field in which s/he has a good reputation of being a qualified translator.

 Translator ethics

Translators operate under general principles:

• not to disclose information acquired in the course of their work

• not to undertake work that is beyond their ability

• to be accurate

• to be responsible for the quality of their work

• to continue developing their professional knowledge and skills

• to respect and support their fellow professionals

Is machine translation a viable alternative?

• Machine translation works on basic and uncomplicated texts which are written according to strictly controlled guidelines

• But, it does not work with authentic or complex texts that encompass a full range of expression and ambiguity

• Using machine translation requires extensive pre-editing and post-editing by human experts.


To define translators, we need to differentiate between translators & interpreters; identify the role of translators, identify the qualities of a good translation, list the characteristics of a good translation; determine to what extent the translator can work in both languages; determine the cost; determine the time needed for translation; determine the degree of freedom the translator has to change the text; determine whether or no the translation should be checked; define the procedure of selecting a freelance translator; decide whether or not to work with a translation company; define translators qualifications and ethics; and decide whether machine translation a viable alternative or not.