What is quality in translation?

João Vicente’s comment about people who can’t translate prompted me to open a discussion about quality.

Much has been said and written about “translation quality”. There are books, articles on peer-reviewed academic journals, blogs, and so on.

For me, quality is a well translated, well researched and well written translation. Those texts where you can’t find “the echo of the original language”. I think JV and many others share this criteria for quality.

But what about those bottomfeeders, of which we are asked to edit/revise/proofread and we find the translation is literal, spelling is lousy and syntax has taken a day off. For them, this is quality. That’s the way they learned and that’s what their market accept. Or, they don’t, but their clients just dump them without giving them any reason and they believe they are the cream of the crop of translation because they “make the translator invisible” and convey the author’s ideas verbatim. I call them “Escola de Samba da Tradução Literal” (for my English speaking friends, The Literal Translation Ensemble”).

Then, you get one these people proofreading your translation. And they claim it is of poor quality because you “did not follow the words in the original text”; you did not translate all the “pleases, yous, yours”, etc.; your “punctuation is all over the place”, and you translated “term” as “termo” and not “prazo” (when referring to the duration of a contract – in Brazilian law, it can be termo (more of this on another post). And then you have to spend a long time justifying to the PM, who does not speak your language, that you are right. Enough to blow 7 gaskets.

So, m’learned friends, what is quality?


Filed under Translation

2 Responses to What is quality in translation?

  1. Hello Ana,

    I love your article and it’s so true.

    🙂 Suzana

  2. Unfortunately many translators mistake quality for style. For example, translators who prefer a more literal style tend to rate a less literal translation as of poor quality, and vice-versa. They don’t respect the style of other translators. Instead of focusing exclusively on objective mistakes, they make lots of changes related to style and personal preferences.

    In my opinion, this is one of the most frequent mistakes made by translators. The other one, at least in my language pair, is that many translators have no idea of how to use commas appropriately. Again, many simply think of what they believe it’s better, and that’s not the way to go. We have to know grammar. There are rules for comma usage. Every single comma in a text has a reason to be there (or not). Learning those rules takes time, but it’s worthy. At least we know what we’re doing, instead of “guessing” (“I think it’s better this way”).

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