A translator's main task it to render an accurate translation of the source language into the requested target language. So, does this cover translating the document verbatim, including translating bad grammar? It's a question that plagues many translators, especially those who are still very new to the job.
What does a translator do?
The translator is someone who has the proper college or university education, with a degree in languages. He or she has undergone postgraduate studies or training to become a qualified translator.
Translation work requires the translator to convey the meaning of the written source content from one language into another or several languages accurately. The work allows the translator to handle various types of documents, from business and legal to technical or scientific.
Typically, the translator's work requires the following:
- Reading the source document
- Consulting clients
- Writing and editing the copy of the source document
- Preparing summary of the work
- Using recommended translation programs and tools
Translators can be employed by companies, such as:
- Industrial and commercial organizations
- International organizations like the United Nations
- Civil service institutions
Translators can be freelance or self-employed, if they opt not to be permanently employed. Their key skills include the ability to work within deadlines, above-average general knowledge, fluency in a language pair, IT skills, and excellence in the writing and speaking the individual's native language and another foreign language.
Aside from the above skills, the translator must be well-versed in grammar, sentence construction and elements of writing. Different languages require different word order, punctuations, spelling and grammar rules. Moreover, the translator is expected to deliver a translation that conveys the meaning of the original document, in proper grammar that will allow it to be understood by the target users of the translation.
Coping with bad grammar
Ideally, the translator should receive a well-written source document. However, there may be unavoidable circumstances when the written context contains grammar and spelling errors that will not only slow down the translation process but will also require more coordination with the client.
What should the translator do if he or she is faced with such a dilemma?
One of the first things the translator should do is assess the document and ascertain the following:
- How bad is the source material?
- How much time do you have before final submission?
- How much freedom do you have to render a good translation?
For these three items, you have a few options. You can use your own judgment, which could be the most practical thing to do in order to render the original author's intention, even if there's bad grammar in the source document.
It is easy to apply this option for informal documents like letters and emails where the original writer fails to use the required accent marks or correct pronunciation. If you can decipher what the author is trying to convey, it is easier for you to correct the grammar mistakes without consulting the client.
You do not have to be very strict with the construction of the written content. If you can decipher the meaning, then it is alright if there are grammatical errors and bad sentence structures, or even missing words.
However, if you have doubts or there is ambiguity in the meaning, this option will not apply and you have to clarify it with the client.
Another thing to consider is the deadline. If this is a rush job, you understand the meaning and intent, and the grammatical errors can be easily fixed, then using your own judgment is fine. Checking with the client will only slow down your progress, which may lead you to miss your deadline.
If the client gives you enough latitude, especially if you already know the client, using your own judgment in correcting bad grammar will speed up your progress, allowing you to submit good work. It is important to discuss this item with the client, so their expectation and yours are on the same level. The latitude given to you can also depend on the type of translation you are requested to do. It is alright to exercise your own judgment for simple and basic translations, but you will not have too much room to move if you are doing translations for specific subjects, such as medical, legal or business. Your creativity and freedom is wider when you are translating marketing materials or advertisements.
Another option is to ask the client directly. If you are confused as to the intention of the author of the original document, it is better to clarify it with the client so you do not waste time. It is not good for your work and your reputation if you doubt the right meaning of the original and still proceed with the translation without clearing it first with the client. You should not guess the intent of the original writer if it is difficult to ascertain it.
Like the other option, it is still subject to discretion. It is not a good idea to go back to the client each time you find something that is rather ambiguous. You can read the entire document; list all the things that you do not fully understand and the errors that you've found before asking the client for clarification. Another option is to clarify only those sections that you cannot fully understand and use your judgment as an experienced and professional translator for insignificant and small errors that you know will not affect the overall meaning of the original work.
This option will only add a bit of extra time to your translation process. You can proceed to work on the rest of the material while you wait for the client to clarify the questions that you have gathered and sent.
Establish a good working relationship with the client by ensuring that it is alright to clarify things with them before you start the work. Most clients will be agreeable to the arrangement because they want a good translation of the material they have. You should also discuss if they have specific terminology that they want to use and request that they send you a copy.
In some cases, it is fine to follow the original text, especially if there is syntactic ambiguity in the content. Examples would be news and press release headlines. Some headlines are meant to shock, while others are meant to touch the curiosity of the audience. The intent is the same, to entice the readers to read the news. You may find that the writer intended the ambiguity, which means that you have to translate it as intended.
Since it is the job of the translator to ensure that the translation is accurate and that it will be able to deliver the intended message to the intended users, another option you can use is to include a translator's note. This is often added when there are problematic words or phrases or if there is a need to explain historical or cultural references, which may be lost for the readers of the translation.
Should the translator worry over translating bad grammar in the original text?
Some translators believe that they are only required to translate and not worry about errors in grammar and punctuations. They might fear that the client will look for a different translator or feel insulted when the translator points out the errors.
However, it is the mark of a good and professional translator to do what's best for the job he or she accepted, which means rendering error-free translations. If you look at the positive side of things, you might find that ensuring that the translation is error-free helps build your reputation as an excellent translator. It also establishes that you are concerned with the reputation of your client.
So, what are your other options aside from those mentioned above?
If you find mistakes such as errors in terminology used, repetitions, missing words or incorrect spelling, you can use the ''track changes'' feature in Word so you can show the corrections you have made and send it to the client and ask them to approve the correction. You have to understand that in some cases, the grammar errors are culture-specific and not always due to bad writing.
You'll find that most clients will be very thankful and appreciative because you have shown them that you are concerned about the details. Doing the extra mile for your clients will be to your benefit and theirs.
What do you think? Have you encountered bad grammar in your translation work? Which method did you use?
We think outside the box
Day Translations, Inc. ensures that you always get the most accurate translation every time. We seek to understand the context of the written content, ensuring that we translate the document as true to the original as possible, despite the errors in grammar. We do not ignore grammar mistakes. We see to it that there is always direct communication between the client and us, so we can clarify discrepancies, errors and other issues regarding the source document.
Our native-speaking translators are trained professionals in languages and specialize in different subject matters from general translations, to business translations, legal translations and more. We ensure our clients that our translations are of the highest quality. Put your trust in us whenever you are in need of language translation services, because we understand languages. Get in touch with us at phone number 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at Contact us. We are open 24/7, throughout the year, so you do not have to wait for the next business day.
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