Translation Musings

I’ll buy your CD’s if you take out that apostrophe.

Jeremy Clarkson can be easily riled, and he often comes across as arrogant and opinionated, so while I usually disagree with him and his attempts to turn cars into boats and spacecraft and otherwise waste my TV license fee, I will have to admit that I agree with him about one thing…

“When I see a sign advertising CD’s and DVD’s, I become so angry that my teeth start to fall out” – Jeremy Clarkson as quoted in today’s Metro

I think my primary purpose in life is to tell errant youths to pick up their litter and put it in a bin, and my secondary purpose is to correct signs in toilets with poor grammar. So, if you don’t happen to frequent the same establishments, let’s sum it up:

If something belongs to something else, then you can use an apostrophe.

If a word is a contraction of two words, then you can use an apostrophe.

Otherwise, don’t use an apostrophe!

However, while some people put apostrophes everywhere, others, like councils in Devon, eliminate them completely! The street should be “Baker’s View”, not “Bakers View” because it was the view Mr Baker’s land, not a view of a bunch of bakers at the bottom of a hill. Also, the current BBC drama “Prisoners’ Wives” is correctly listed as such on the iPlayer, but when you watch the opening credits, the apostrophe has disappeared! Tsk tsk.

Translators whose native language is not English are almost always excellent grammarians and do a fabulous job of spotting errant apostrophes (and other mistakes) in English texts. Perhaps we can hire translators to teach English in our schools…

So, bravo Jeremy! Thanks for carrying the torch.

Get the best translation possible

One of the most recognised truisms in the translation industry is that good source content yields a good translation.

Glossaries and style guides can certainly help, but what matters most is that the original copy is well-written.  When text does not flow logically, is difficult to understand, inconsistent or contains errors that can make it difficult for non-native speakers to even grasp the intended meaning, it takes a good deal longer to translate.  During a recent project, a translator asked me what sort of fabric ‘shiffon’ was and what exactly ‘broidrais anglais’ was.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the text should be ‘chiffon’ and ‘broderie anglaise’, but I’m sure she had already taken time to search in a few dictionaries before asking me.

Translators charge by the word, so when portions of text take longer to translate, the translator needs to make time savings elsewhere.  Yes, good translators will do what is necessary to make the translation as good as possible, but realistically, they probably have a deadline that they accepted based on the principle that the source text was of an acceptable quality, and another job lined up ready and waiting. This extra time may be time that they would prefer to spend reviewing their translation or researching the client’s product.

Not only does it take longer to decipher the source text and even longer to produce a good translation, poor source text can also be very discouraging to a translator.  At least on a subconscious level, translators must wonder “why am I spending so much time and effort to make this text read well, when the client is clearly satisfied with substandard copy?”.

Project Managers realise this and so we do our best to ‘pre-localise’ text before we send it for translation, which most often includes running a spell check and reading through the file to fix any obvious errors.  We hope this improves the translator’s impression of the quality of the text, and in turn results in a better quality translation. It can also reduce ambiguity, aiding the translator’s understanding of the source text, which results in a more accurate translation.

By taking the time to edit your text prior to sending it for translation, you can achieve a translation that is of far higher quality and much more appealing to readers of the target market.  Ask yourself if the copy is consistent and accurate, if the tone reflects the message you want to convey, and if there is anything that is unclear or might otherwise be misunderstood.