Re. Translation costs

Subject: Re. Translation costs
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 07:51:34 -0500

Lawrence (Barybaro?) wrote in response to my posting on translation

<<Employing these extra people [technical experts] surely put up the
costs. And what about finding an expert in the target language in the
first place?>>
Two good points. In our case, the technical experts are already
employed, so there's no extra cost. And my employer considers
translation quality important enough to ask these experts to devote
considerable time to the task of quality control. If you're not lucky
enough to have this sort of setup, the best possible technical experts
are your customers: the simplest possible way to do this would be to
find a single customer with the appropriate characteristics, and ask
him or her to review the document for you. You can build on this
simple base to a full-scale documentation usability test if you have
the time and budget; you should certainly aim in that direction.

<<When I have finished [translating] Susan does the editing for
English and proofreading. I never do my own editing or proofreading.>>
That's a good point. It's damn near impossible to edit your own
translations (or any of your own writing) as well as someone else can
do. Time and resources permitting, two pairs of eyes find more errors
than one pair. If you can't do this, try to build in a 1-week "set
aside" period. You'd be surprised how much a manuscript changes when
you haven't seen it for a week.

I can already hear the rebuttal to this: "Who can afford to wait a
week?" The answer is simple: it takes just as long to revise a
manuscript right after you've written it as it takes one week later,
but you get worse results. In the meantime, do other useful work while
you wait for the week to pass. If a week sounds too long, try 3 days
or even a weekend. You'll surprise yourself.

<<Many a time I have found very serious errors and omissions in the
original Italian document....if I have the slightest doubt or even
something that does not seem to *me* to tie up then I ask.>>
That's exactly how to do it. The translation process and the
second-language edit often turn up problems that need to be resolved
in both languages. As an editor, one of my strengths is looking at
something in a different way from the author and poking holes in the
author's assumptions; working in a second language helps to provide
the necessary distance. When in doubt, I always check. Problems often
arise fairly subtly: for example, something that I thought I
understood perfectly well when I edited the French version
substantively suddenly seems not so clear when I have to express it
precisely in English. (This is a corollary of the teacher's rule: you
don't fully understand something unless you can explain it to someone

<<Often we are asked to check an English version of a manual or some
other document. In all cases I ended up not only translating from
scratch, but once again find faults with the original Italian
document. This really makes me feel bad because my client thinks he
is going to get a better doc for a few quid but ends up paying twice
for what should have been done correctly in the first place.>>
I'd only feel bad if I was the one doing the inferior-quality
translation. As for finding faults in the original, this is just proof
of the old computer rule: "garbage in, garbage out". You need to
explain this to your clients: if they don't do any quality control in
the original, they'll have to do it in the translation. In fact, you
should be pleased: you're providing considerable extra value to your
client by doing more than a word for word translation. The value of
translation comes from reworking the words so that the correct ideas
move from author to reader; if the ideas are wrong, you can't
communicate them until you fix the ideas. If all the reader needed was
a word for word translation, we could be replaced by a good

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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