Turning junk into gems
A good translator can usually find subtle ways of turning copy produced by a less capable writer into something easier to read and more convincing than the original. That’s often precisely what demanding clients want – even if they don’t say so up front. It’s part of the added value a skilled professional translator brings to the table.
But to be on the safe side, check with your buyer. Clarify the translation’s purpose and target readership. And give a few examples, so clients can see and understand how you might make their text sing – or stick with the awkwardness, if that’s what is really, truly required.
Falling back on a “garbage in, garbage out” defence is unlikely to endear you to anyone, especially if you trot it out after the event.
what the source text doesn’t say
Unless you’re truly proficient in your source language, you’ll never have the confidence to make your target text sound authentic. If you don’t detect the weak signals – that rather odd wording, for example; is it committee writing or a sign that your remarkably diplomatic authors have something to hide? – chances are you’ll play it safe and end up with something even odder in the target language.
Living in the country where they speak your source language is the best way to stay on top of things, but that’s obviously not an option for everybody. If it’s been years since you set foot in the country, you need to plan a trip. Maybe even a sabbatical. Or find another way to get back into the conversation before it’s too late.
The word is your oyster
Metaphors and idioms are a can of worms – unless you know the tricks of the trade:
- Use the same image/idiom if it exists in the target language. That’s a piece of cake.
- Replace with a corresponding target language phrase. What costs an arm and a leg in English costs your shirt in Swedish.
- Replace with a simile. That often works like magic.
- Replace with an equivalent expression that rings some of the same bells as the original. “The darling buds of May” are an enigma in many countries.
Plausibility dulls the mind
Post-editing a bad machine translation involves simple decisions: you either battle to make it better or advise that the text be retranslated from scratch.
The big challenge is reviewing a “good” machine translation. Everything looks right, but is it? Has the software read between the lines? Did it pick up the risqué innuendo? Has it remembered what was written three paragraphs before? Does the text flow? Is it compelling?
Watch out for the speciously well-formed sentence. There’s nothing like plausibility to dull the mind.
Professional ethics: clients
Most of the precepts behind professional ethics apply to everyday life: only occasionally does something arise which relates specifically to your job as a translator.
For client relations you must build trust by:
- being honest about your qualifications, capabilities and responsibilities, and working within them;
- negotiating agreed terms of business, and abiding by them. Most professional organisations offer model terms and conditions that can serve as a basis for your own;
- keeping confidential information confidential.
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