Tips – Writing Translations

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What makes a good translation? As talented as my translator clients are, they still sometimes have questions about how they can improve.

So you’ve already read through your text to get a full understanding of its content and style. You’ve taken out your bi-lingual dictionary and style guide. Google is open on-screen, waiting to assist. And you’re ready to begin.

What can you keep in mind as you go about your translation task? Here are a few simple tips.

1. Read around the subject
If you’re lucky enough to have a regular client, you will develop an understanding of their main topics as you work with them. But when you are introduced to a new field it helps to read about the subject in books or online. This will help you to learn the terminology and understand your audience. Be sure to refer to reputable sources, and don’t assume their spelling or grammar is up to scratch – check for yourself.

2. Give yourself plenty of time
Your job is difficult enough without putting yourself under unnecessary time pressure. Sometimes it can’t be helped if you’re working to tight time constraints, but if you have the luxury of starting a few days earlier than your deadline, give yourself that flexibility. It will give you more time to read around the subject (point 1); to find that succinct, clearest word or phrase (points 4, 5 & 6); and to proofread your latest draft (point 8).

3. Take advantage of your client’s glossary
If your client has included a glossary with your project details, this will help you with terminology and phrasing. Of course, you won’t be given a glossary for every task, which is where reading around the subject will help you – especially your client’s website or previous publications.

4. Be consistent and clear with terminology
You might find that there four or five words you could use to refer to the same thing. That doesn’t mean you should use them all! Whereas some people preach that variety makes for a more interesting text, you could also risk losing your reader if they mistakenly think you’re talking about two or more different things. Maintain clarity in your text by using the same term or phrase every time.

5. Use clear nouns/pronouns
In the same way, it’s better to say “Harriet said” / “Harriet did” then ambiguously refer to “she”. You can always remove any unnecessary repetition later.

6. Keep sentences brief
Short sentences are very clear. They are harder to misinterpret. Longer sentences like this, full of sub-clauses or long lists of nouns, verbs or other terms, which may or may not cover more than one topic – such as your client’s approach to computer technology in addition to their human resource policy – may technically be grammatically correct, but they will strain the focus of your reader and leave more room for error or misunderstanding.

7. Translate meaning, not words
The website Anglocom says, “Be the reader’s advocate … make the effort to understand the content and purpose of your text, then translate it as simply as possible.” This is especially important when translating idioms, which rarely translate literally. You will have a deeper understanding of the meaning in your text if you read around the subject (point 1) and take advantage of your client’s glossary (point 2).

8. Run it through a free grammar checker
Microsoft Word, or a website like Grammarly, can give you a quick check on your spelling, punctuation and grammar. They are far from perfect and can’t be relied on, but they might help you catch some stray typos. It will get your text in better shape to pass to your editor, client or supervisor even if it’s not the final draft.

9. Add notes for your editor or client
If a sentence was particularly challenging, add a comment to your text to explain what you’re trying to say. This may be impractical if you’re writing back to your client (who expects flawless work), but if you work with a proofreader or editor then they may find this invaluable, and it may possibly avoid errors due to misinterpretation, and save you time on back-and-forth questions.

10. Learn about translation itself
Whenever you aren’t translating, do some reading about translation itself. Translatorthoughts is a specialised website that provides translators with tips and some very helpful tools, including techniques and a translator’s glossary of terms. The advice to writers is: when you’re not writing, read. The same applies to translators – the more reading you do of the language you’re translating into, the more you will improve your skills.

Is there any advice you’d like on translating? If you have a question or comment, let me know!

—db