TechWR and Translation

Subject: TechWR and Translation
From: Coleman Yeaw <coleman -at- JAPANESE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 May 1996 10:22:44 -0400

On the subject of translation- John's very valid questions.

>1) When you do a document, and it gets translated, how do you verify that the
>translated output is done in such a way that your information stays accurate
>both literally and as intended.

When you are going into non-European languages, it is often impossible to
both convey the absolute literal meaning of the original and maintain good
writing style in the translation. This is not to say that a faithful,
well-written translation is impossible, merely that to get one, significant
stylistic changes may be necessary.

In terms of accuracy, never settle for one pass only. At our company we do
large volumes of Japanese translation for software and other high-tech
companies, and everything is looked at by an editor before it goes out the
door. Most documents are looked edited, then checked by a proofreader (the
state of Japanese spell-checking being abyssmal). This is the minikum you
should expect from a translator. It's best if the translator and editor are
different people, and the editor should be highly qualified at reading the
original language and writing in the target language. Avoid the "native

>2) This is more for those that handle proposals, but when you deal with a
>document that has been translated, and you come across wording or phrasing that
>you believe has "lost something in the translation", what do you do; have it
>retranslated, answer it based on what you think they meant or answer it based
>on the translation that you received?

A great deal depends on the purpose of the document, in my experience. If
the translation is for a court case, absolute clarity in conveying the
original meaning is critical. In other cases, for example an ad, style is
all-important. Technical Communications typically fall somewhere in
between- accuracy is important, but it also has to be readable.

>4) When you submit a document to an entity in another country, how closely do
>you follow their conventions. Example: I did a proposal for a German company
>that contained a cover letter. The person being addressed in the body of the
>letter was a doctor. The correct German form is "Herr Doktor XXX". Do I say
>that even though the cover letter was in English? That's kinda like us white
>boys saying something is "Def" It may apply, but it just doesn't work.

Generally (and this is just our approach at my company), we try to
discourage our clients from writing in a consciously Japanese style. People
hear that the Japanese are very polite, so write outrageously polite prose.
From our perspective, that is not necessary, and indeed can impede the
translation process. We regard it as part of our job to make sure the
translated document is culturally appropriate. For grey areas, consultation
may be required.

Let's keep the translation thread going- it is very interesting for me, and
I hope the others in my business on the list, to see the problems that
writers wrestle with when preparing for translation.

Coleman Yeaw
Japanese Language Services, Inc.
Cambridge, MA
coleman -at- japanese -dot- com

Japanese Language Services, Inc.
Cambridge, MA
Osaka, Japan
Translation, Localization, and Web Development for the Japanese Market

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