Reviewing translations

2014-08-24 17:26:31

When you need to check a student’s test results, let’s say, a biology exam, do you ask your cleaning lady to do it?

Of course not. I had a client a while back and my best Chinese translator translated the document. A few days later, this client complained that the translation was bad.

The first thing I said was, “Can you give me specifics?”

The response was: “The comment by the Chinese reviewer in our office was that the document looks like it was translated by Google Translate. The text was completely unintelligible.”

I patiently asked for more specifics. “Who was the reviewer? Were they familiar with nano-technology (the subject of the document).

After a few emails back and forth, I realized that the in-house reviewer they referred to was actually a 20 year old intern.

Here is where the root cause of the problem was: 20 year old interns are generally not linguistic experts by default. There are many reasons why a reviewer would be incorrect in their assessment of a translation’s quality. In my experience, 80% of the time, a translation is “inadequate” or plainly “unintelligible” because the original document was badly written. Or the subject matter was so technical that it was coherent only to an engineer.

There is also a general misperception among people that a person who can speak another language automatically gives them the credentials to review a document in that language.

I speak 4 languages. I am a specialist of 1 language. I would not feel comfortable translating in any other language BUT my native language. The only exception to this is if the document being translated is for general comprehension purposes, not for publication.

Professional courtesy dictates that reviews should be made by third party professionals – native editors who can objectively rate the quality of a translation. Not the cleaning lady, not the 20 year old intern, not even the engineer in your software department. Another linguist should be the only person who can capably review a translation.