Professional ethics: NS/NNS

Subject: Professional ethics: NS/NNS
From: Robert Nusbaum <Nuskafka -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 28 Sep 1998 04:35:19 EDT

Andrea writes:

I'm translating a CV into English and there's a couple of job positions I'm
not so sure about:
"Subgerente" = Undermanager
"Profesor de la Cátedra" = Chair professor??? (sounds a little

and in so doing raises an important question that I have often faced as a
native speaker translator: What can a NNS (non-native speaker) translator
ethically allow herself to submit to a client without prior
proofreading/revision by a NS?

In my experience, NNS translators who attempt CV's in English are doing their
clients a disservice. I've proofread, and rewritten dozens of CV's (and cover
letters) translated by NNS, and I have yet to see one done by even the most
conscientious of NNS translators that wasn't borderline dysfunctional.

This is because CV's are basically exercises in impressing the Human Resources
person with the psycho-lexical button-pushing ability of the prospective
employee. The language has to be not only correct, but (depending of course
upon the job) impressive. Creative but subtle variation of a generally
accepted framework is what's required.

And CV's cannot be translated the way documentation or a World Bank report is
translated. They have to be remodelled--i.e. written--with a particular
audience in mind. And since, unlike World Bank reports, CV's are usually
written by inexperienced writers in the first place, a certain amount of
outright rewriting is in the best interests of the client. At the very least,
the imagery of the source text has to be adjusted in translating. In this
respect, CV's and cover letters need to be treated like poems, which are also
a series of button-pushing images.

I'm interested in others' views on this: What parameters (if any) should be
established? For example, does matter if a NNS translates technical
documentation in non-idiomatic English?

Are there any kinds of translations in which it doesn't matter how unidiomatic
the language is? Are we in a position to judge that?

In correcting some long translations with limited correction-time budgets,
I've often had to assume--or convince myself--that submitting a muddled
translation (sometimes a reflection of the muddled original) was okay, simply
because there just wasn't enough money to pay for the hours of rewriting it
would have taken to produce a coherent text. I hope I was right.

Robert Nusbaum
Translations from German, French, Russian, and Hungarian > English
Corrections of translations into English
Ghost-writing and text consulting

E-mail: NusKafka -at- aol -dot- com

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