A number of rather comical translation faux pas have been brought to my attention over past days. It is true that not all translations are created equal. Equally true is that translators are not all created equal. Of course, I use term ‘created’ in a very loose sense here as I believe a translator is a product of his or her effort, training and attention to detail. If you are seeking an excellent translation or must oversee a translation in any capacity, I have a few useful tips for you.
To achieve an excellent translation of important material, I highly recommend retaining a translation service provider with a good reputation. This will do wonders for your translation. But, by itself, it is not enough.
First of all, what gives with good translation? How do you know, if you do not have command of both languages, whether or not you have achieved an optimal translation? As a person responsible for procuring retention of language expertise for proper pharmaceutical labeling of medicines in another language or any other imaginable position requiring translation oversight, how do you know when you have achieved success?
I have experience from three distinct vantage points. The first perspective, from which I can speak, is as an executive responsible for translation of very technical language within advertisements. In a later article, I will speak from perspective of one married to a Professional Translator, which has given me tremendous insights on issues of quality.
As a rule, it helps to be detail-oriented or perhaps even nit-picky to ensure proper rendering into another language. It also helps to be hands-on, that is, a grab-the-bull-by-the-horns type of person to take responsibility for translation process and ‘end-product’. By “nit-picky”, I am not saying that you should by any means be frivolous in your pursuit of perfection. But only nit-picky in sense of working vigorously in order to catch what could be a stumbling block to your target audience. It takes great diligence to ferret out translation problems when you are not a native speaker. In fact, a corollary truth to axiom introduced at beginning of my diatribe (ahem article) is that not all native-speakers are created equal either.
Assess resources within your organization, such as people that have specialized knowledge of subject. Someone may have either limited or excellent command of target language, so by all means, use them (in good sense). You can ask them what they perceive as likely problematic language in source text. That is, text that is likely to be difficult to render in another language. You can then understand what likely problem text might be. Further, you can consider translation options for problem text and tradeoffs in choosing one option over another. During edit and proofing stages, you can use same people. This feedback can all be rolled into your review process.
In one case of a very difficult translation of English to Chinese (Mandarin), I was fortunate that I had a technical expert in field of Global Positioning Systems with significant target language knowledge (a native speaker) to assist in review process.
For many languages, neither specific idea nor a given word needing translation even exists, such that it can be a real challenge to translate certain words.
For instance, English word ‘triage’ has been transliterated into several languages, because idea as a specific word does not exist in many languages.
Use (with great fear and trembling) a free online language translator, such as found at . As a reality check on quality of translation you are obtaining, translate some text and then translate translation back into your source language. That will give you a rough idea of what your target readers would see should you make potentially terminal mistake of using such a translation for a text of any importance (or public consumption).