How I do translation and revision/editing

Theories of and approaches to translation and revision/editing there are aplenty. On this page I describe my approach to translation and revision/editing. It is not intended as a full account of what I take into consideration when working on a text, but it should suffice as a brief sketch of my main concerns.

How I translate

My foremost consideration when translating is the target audience—more specifically, the acceptability of the text I’m producing with respect to the audience of the target text. This means that my choices are guided by factors such as the educational level and the technical proficiency of the target readers.

Since I do not translate literary or sacred texts, I do not have to—nor should I—strive to render any finely-crafted stylistic aspects of the source text. What I must do is produce a text that will do for the target-language readers what the original did/does for the source-language readers: inform, explain, instruct, educate, describe, persuade…

This may often call for significant departures from word-for-word translation. But oblique translation is perfectly valid—indispensable, indeed—when it is justified ‘from above’: when the semantic or pragmatic effect is preserved, the lexicogrammar is allowed to deviate. This is not to say, of course, that I have no interest in seeking the ‘proper word’. Quite the opposite, I’d say: I always try to use the most succinct wording, with the proviso that it is acceptable. And when there is a morphologically well-formed and semantically transparent (hence readily acceptable) term, I almost always prefer it to a lengthy circumlocution—unless the particular target audience or the client requires me to be more ‘descriptive’ end explicate things.

What I would also like to point out, before closing, is that I always make sure that I have a firm grasp of the content I am asked to translate. If I can’t understand what a text is about or how texts of that kind are produced, how am I supposed to translate it successfully? Dictionaries, encyclopaedias and reference materials on the Web or on paper do little to disguise a translator’s lack of familiarity with / expertise in a given subject. They can help to resolve one or two problematic points, but they can’t turn one into an expert: one’s ignorance will shine through one’s text. Therefore, I never undertake any projects whose conceptual or stylistic/generic make-up I am not familiar with. This does limit my potential clientele and income, but it definitely allows me to pride myself on the high quality of my work and be confident in uttering my—somewhat pompous—slogan: Translation services for those who require excellence.

How I revise/edit

First, let me clarify what I mean by “revising” or “editing” a translation and what I mean by “proofing”:

  • Revision/editing is mainly bi-directional: the editor makes sure that each source segment has been translated properly—fully and appropriately. After this ‘horizontal’ check the editor does a ‘vertical’ check, focussing on the target text, to make sure that it is ready for publishing.
  • Proofing is confined within the target text: the proofer makes sure that the translation does not have any orthographic or lexicogrammatical errors. This means that it is not the proofer’s job to check whether the original has been translated properly, but only to check whether the target text is free of writing errors.

The first of those two is the most common, although many project managers insist on calling it “proofing” or “bilingual review”, which is even more misleading: “reviewing” a translation does not entail fixing the errors but merely pointing out any overall weaknesses to the translator or to the project manager; it means assessing the quality of a text, not making it ready for publication.

In any case, when I am asked to edit a translation (by making suggestions, which the translator will either accept or reject), I focus on correcting errors (be they ‘horizontal’ or ‘vertical’), not on making unnecessary stylistic suggestions. If there are problems of consistency in the writing style of the translator, I certainly spot them and suggest revisions, but I do not shift words around for no reason.

It is very usual to see ‘editors’ making all sorts of unnecessary, unjustified changes—perhaps in an effort to impress the project manager with the amount of work they have done. But what is important is not the sheer amount of edits, but their quality. When I return to a translator a text with a ton of edits, I make sure to justify every single suggestion—apart from the ones concerning blatant mistakes, of course. My role as an editor is to ensure that the target-language text can ‘stand in’ for the source-language text; that it can function as a text in its own right, independently of the original. And this is the crux of the matter: to produce an authentic target-language text, not a text that essentially remains in the source language but has been ‘dressed up’ with target-language words.