Re: Translators--who?

Subject: Re: Translators--who?
From: Max Wyss <prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch>
To: Chris Kowalchuk <chris -at- bdk -dot- net>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 23:00:15 +0200


well, well, well. Agreed that there is a professional Translator's
organization. In the US, it is the ATA (American Translators Association),
and they actually do have accreditation exams.

However, "translator" is in no way a protected profession name. This means
that anyone can call himself "translator", and that there are no real legal
ways to forbid people to do so. For that, the accreditation exams do
actually have some use. On the other hand, particularly for technical
translation, these accreditation tests are not quite representative. Keep
in mind that the texts to be translated are selected by linguists, and may
or may not have any relationship to practical work. One important thing
about translation is that normally translators only work into their native
language. And those accreditation exams are set up that way. There are a
few very good translators which have the accreditation in both directions,
but their number is very small.

For technical translation (and in some respect, even more for marketing
stuff), the translator must first be a good writer. Then, the translator
must understand the topic, and the foreign language knowledge comes only

Translation software: We must make a big difference between two kind of
translation software: "Translation Memories" and "Translation programs".

Translation memory systems are essentially databases which contain already
translated material, and make their suggestion to the source text. These
programs are power tools for the hands of professional translators.

Translation programs claim to translate anything fed into them. They are
excellent examples of "Garbage in, Crap out" systems. Except under some
very specialized circumstances, they are not worth the material value of
the CD they are delivered on. Those exceptions are where the source
material is very controlled, and there are no ambiguities at all.

Just my Zweiräppler.

Max Wyss
PRODOK Engineering
Low Paper workflows, Smart documents, PDF forms
CH-8906 Bonstetten, Switzerland

Fax: +41 1 700 20 37
e-mail: mailto:prodok -at- prodok -dot- ch

[ Building Bridges for Information ]


> Do we, then, assume that every Russian has what
> it takes to write tech docs in the Russian language or, more to the point,
> translate written technical documents from Russian to some other language?

Short answer: No, not usually.

Translators have much clearer professional standards than tech writers.
In Canada, and probably most other countries, in order to be accepted as
a member of the translators' professional association (don't remember
precisely what it is called), one has to pass heavy-duty certification
tests, which you are usually not qualified to do without several years
of post-secondary education in language study, and then masters-level
work specifically in translation.

So, would I trust a non-certified translator with my translations? Only
if I thought they were well along the road to becoming a certified
translator, and/or I believed they understood the many problems of
translation (unlikely without education).

Note that this has nothing to do with editing in another language. Once
the translator has done her job, I would gladly entrust editing to a
highly literate, specifically-educated (in the field of editing--not
necessarily formally educated), native speaker of the language.

Of course, in cases where you can't find or afford the exalted
individual described above, I suppose you have to lower your standards,
but don't expect very consistent results. Translation is a highly
specialized skill. It is for that reason, incidentally, that I don't put
much faith in translation programs etc., unless they are being used as
an aid by a skilled translator (many of whom consider them more of a
hindrance than a help).


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