Bozen – Translation is an art it has often been said and art certainly requires creativity and application. So what are the skills which contribute to producing a fine translation and indeed what is the test of whether a translation is excellent or not? Any response will lead on to the question of whether the quality of a translation really matters or whether it is some sort of adjunct, which requires minimum attention and little consideration.
Many would have it that the proof of a good translation is whether one can distinguish which is the original text when the works are put side by side. This interpretation is somewhat restricted for the original text might have not been produced by a seasoned professional or copywriter and therefore the translated version should be even more effective in achieving its objectives.
Surely if a translator is an experienced professional and captures the tone and register of a text he or she should be able to render a version in the target language of commendable impact. Many writers tend to write in rather long and complicated sentences. The text becomes a muddle and lacks cohesion.
However, a translation should strive to present all the information and nuance of the source text in a clear and uncluttered fashion whenever possible.To achieve such perhaps goes beyond the expected but it is a very possible outcome when scrutinising the skills which a translator should possess. Leaving aside the banal point that a translator should be a native speaker, or better put “a native writer”, he or she should not succumb to the literalist fallacy and attempt to duplicate the text in another language, following a pattern of word-for-word transcription.
A list of shoddy translations is quite easy to find and some of the more absurd are kept for use by University faculties offering a translation degree, so as to show how not to go about the task. What then is this art of translating made up of? Certainly an appreciation of the objectives of the text is essential, identifying the target and understanding the impact the original words are intended to have – are they intended to reassure, to confirm, to query, to admonish, and are they intended to do so in an aggressive, friendly, or sarcastic manner. Different types of text will bring different verbs and adjectives to the surface. Technical documentation will foremost require accuracy, compliance, standardisation, whereas a poem will require sensitivity, appreciation, and sense of cultural nuance.
In the world of business, it is often the reputation of a brand or corporate identity, which is being transmitted into another language and any terminology, needs to be coherent with the market language of one country or another. The risk of producing counterproductive material, which might actually damage rather than enhance a company’s standing is a very real one. Many is the time when a too literal or not accurate enough translation of a piece will produce a negative effect and rather than winning over new customers will put off any prospective clients “I do not fancy doing business with them if they cannot even write properly” is a common refrain. Another is “We don’t say that in our language if we wish to achieve a specific goal and therefore if they do not understand this how can we possibly think to cooperate with them – we are on two different planets”.
Yet, notwithstanding the obviousness of these comments many companies pay little attention and invest little money when it comes to translation. Graphic layout and photography yes but translation of slogans and promotional material no. The price too pay is a heavy one and can often lead to ridicule.
The translator’s task is indeed a creative one, needing to take the original text and to actively adapt it to the target market, without going over the top and producing content way beyond the intended message. A couple or so of examples will serve to prove the point. Commas have different functions in different languages, dashes (–) are sometimes used rather than colons (:), longer rambling sentences are broken down into shorter sentences, and some descriptive elements are just not suitable or indeed effective in conveying the message. “Too flowery”, “too patronising”, “too elaborate” are some of the criticisms regularly used when considering a Mediterranean language when compared to one of Anglo Saxon origin.
This adjustment to an original text may even extend to omitting a word or phrase or adding something for doing so achieves the intent the sender had in mind. Thus, a certain degree of inventiveness is an essential item in the translator’s kit.
And there is more besides for a good translation should be performed with more than one pair of eyes so as to successfully complete a job well done. Reviewing by a second professional is part of the process any reliable translation agency adopts. Apart from picking up on any grammatical inaccuracies or layout flaws the second person can check out and consult with the first translator on the essential meanings and messages or instructions to be conveyed. There is a world of difference between “may”, “should”, and “must”, and at times a slip of the pen can cost a barrel of money to a client.
Indeed more than occasionally when one is concerned with contracts, highly specialised content, the pairs of eyes should be supplemented by an expert in the field to revise the text. Revision can save money galore for a client and further the end of impressing on a counterpart the values of doing business with a serious and trustworthy company or organisation.
In the field of technical documentation of manuals and similar there is also a matter of law to be complied with. For example the Italian standardization body, regarding the European Machinery Directive 2006/42/CE, which involves all companies exporting to the European market. The knowledge of this standard is an “essential factor for the planning and the manufacturing of machines and equipment to ensure their free circulation within the European Union”. Articles 256 and 257 highlight the importance of complementing any machine with an accurate and professional technical translation, not only for guaranteeing its functioning but especially its safety.
Apart from legal compliance there is a potential cost saving for quality technical documentation translations often avoid the need to send technicians abroad to deal with breakdowns and general mal-functioning of machinery. In this respect, the role of a translation agency extends beyond the mere preparation of a text in a second language. The relationship with an agency can produce a saving in expenditure and a simplification in company procedures.
For years now, and the sophistication involved is even greater nowadays, the use of technology to create glossaries, whereby there is a standardisation and regularity in the terminology to be used, and to create memory banks, the use of which brings a reduction in costs to the client i.e. not being charged for phrases or chunks of text already translated previously, bring additional prestige and operational capacity to the world of translation.
On a slightly different note and one which is not irreverent nor irrelevant is the definition of a good client for a translation agency. Realisation is the name of the game and a company, which understands the role and importance of translations, is a step ahead of the competition. A common fallacy, which needs to be shed in this context, is the company which decides to give complicated material to an outside company, to outsource, and to do the supposed simple communications “in-house”.
There is no more damning sight than where the titles or straightforward communications of a company are translated in-house incorrectly for it is these messages, instructions and communications which are often read a million times and if incorrect can have an adverse effect on the perception of an actual or prospective customer. For example, a hotel cannot spend a fortune on its website and brochure and not translate well the signage in the hotel. “Do not move in case of fire”, or “Dive only in the swimming pool” or “No outside calls to reception please” do not inspire confidence in the hotel management.
All in all we live in a world of perception and compliance and in the complex area of effective and reliable communications translation has a part to play. Cultural sensitivity is not only a question of behaviour, it is a question of words and none should be excluded. Even Elizabeth Windsor would be upset on receiving a letter starting “Dear Queen …” and addressed to HIS MAJESTY’S GOVERNMENT. Not one, but two mistakes in one false start!
The author: Geoff Barclay spends much time in South Tyrol for business and pleasure, and his “Brain International Ltd” assists individuals, companies and organisations in their internationalisation process – via market entry and business development support and a range of services embracing training, translations, and language immersion abroad – all intended to better equip the interested party looking to expand horizons.