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Quality in the translation industry: the process

In her extensive study, Joanna Drugan (2013) shows that, in the industry, quality concerns not just the product but also the whole process. In other words, instead of just asking at the end if the translation came out well, you need to make sure that things are done in a way that promotes quality, from the beginning till the end.

Quality therefore starts with recruitment or the commission because a good translator should produce good work. Requirements can be very high when quality is of essence; for example a potential translator needs to present relevant degrees, pass internal tests and possess sufficient experience, which can be measured in the years of work or the number of translated words. In other cases, credentials may not really be checked, for example because quality is less of a concern, clients do not realise it matters, or there are no funds to attract experienced professionals.

In some cases smooth and timely progress is also monitored throughout the process by a project manager (PM), who can, for example, re-assign portions of text to other translators. There may also be an efficient system for handling queries during translation to ensure consistency and promote quality.

Revision of the product remains a key stage in quality assurance. There is a bilingual road sign in Swansea, which reads ‘No entry for heavy goods vehicles’ in English and ‘Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd’ in Welsh. In the English back translation, the Welsh actually says ‘I am not in the office at the moment’. This rather unfortunate example exposes a complete lack of revision: a request for translation was sent and the text of the reply was merely copied without anyone realising that it was an automatic out-of-office reply and not the translation. You can see the image on the BBC news website.

Revision is necessary, although its scope will depend on the available resources and the profile and purpose of the project. It may range from elaborate checks against the source text by senior translators to a quick skim of the target text only, for basic readability and typos, by the translator him- or herself. A bilingual revision (against the original) of a full text, and not just samples, will obviously lead to higher quality.

Brian Mossop (2010) also recommends reading the target text more than once, each time focusing on other issues such as flow and logic, or spelling and grammar. Consistency is extremely important: from the use of terms, to style, to punctuation. Some clients may prefer a particular house style, i.e. a set of language and editing rules, and the translation needs to be checked against that too.

If the client has no preference, translators into English can use for example the English Style Guide by the European Commission Directorate-General for Translation, an authoritative resource, recommended by Kari Koonin, a freelance translator, editor and trainer.

Other tips for efficient revision include reading on paper and not on screen and having the translation revised by someone else and not the translator. Kari Koonin mentioned at a workshop for Cardiff students that in addition to revising her translations herself, she often works with a trusted colleague who does the final revision. This is a particularly useful step if the translation is intended for publication, such as a book or a marketing brochure - four eyes are better than two! Of course all checks require extra time and attention and need to be budgeted for: whether it’s hiring an extra pair of eyes or allowing the translator more time for a job, so that they can take a proper break between translating and revision.

Drugan interviewed many in-house and freelance translators and found out that they dislike producing rushed and potentially lower quality work (2013: 154). Yet, no matter how conscientious and passionate about their work translators are, they need to earn a living and be reimbursed for their time and expertise.

Revision, while vitally important, is not necessarily where concern for quality ends. Further stages of the translation process may involve IT checks (especially for specialised formats), product testing (for example, in game localisation) and client surveys. Overall, we see how quality concerns inform the whole translation process, from recruitment to revision, and beyond.

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This article is from the free online course:

Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

Cardiff University