The Translation Process

As often mentioned in this blog, translation is not a linear process. It is slow and complex, requires great attention to detail, with plenty of back and forth along the way that only a conscientious linguist will have the patience to put up with and be crazy enough to enjoy.

A translator does not simply read the source text and retype it in the target language. If that was all we did, the result would only be a shadow of the original, spiced up with errors of all kinds for extra flavour. It is also a mistake to assume that a translator knows every single word in the target language. We are not glossaries; we are human beings and we learn every day as much as anybody. That’s where the fun is.

As well as the meaning, translation should recreate the style, the tone of voice, any puns or double entendres, etc. so the translator must think very carefully about every word they use, the way the sentences are turned, the best idiomatic way of formulating the ideas, without falling into the trap of producing a literal translation that would sound odd to the reader.

Our work also involves a fair amount of research of terminology and jargon. It is not enough to have a good dictionary or a specialised online glossary. No such reference will ever have an exhaustive list of vocabulary and, before we can use any of those words, we need to understand what things are and make sense of the text. Research can often prove to be the most time-consuming part of translation work.

Then as we trudge through a text, things happen: what we thought meant A at the beginning of the text actually proves to mean D later on, or G turns up and could also be translated as what we used for B so our translation of B may need to be changed to make a clearer distinction between B and G. Or we listen to the radio on our lunch break and hear the perfect idiomatic expression for a sentence we translated earlier and we go back to that sentence to improve our translation. Or we just have a brain freeze on a particular word or clause and for all our research we cannot solve the issue. So we leave it for the time being and, when the light bulb moment comes, we return to that battle field.

When the text has finally been translated, it still is far from ready. We must go over our work and check the target text against the source to ensure that we didn’t miss or misconstrue a word or sentence, and of course we think of improvements, question our previous choices, change various things that may have a knock-on effect, research certain things again as we may still have a niggling doubt here and there… The list goes on.

Once we are happy with the translation, we go through the final text on its own to proofread it. This is when we check that the text flows in the target language and makes sense to the reader from the other culture (we may change some sentences around again at this stage), that there are no spelling or punctuation errors, that the text is flawless, before finally sending it to the client.

Translation, a quick and straightforward task? I think not.

Research and attention to detail

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