In various opportunities, we have discussed the importance of translating websites, online ads, marketing campaigns, and even social media efforts. However, little has been said about what makes a good translation. Many factors separate “good” translations from “fair” or mediocre translations.
Contrary to popular belief, translating text is not a mechanical or monotonous task. It requires specific skills and expertise. So, knowing all the “rules” and using the right words is not enough.
Today, I will share my secrets for a good translation – valuable tips that will improve the quality of your work and simplify your process!
1. Know the languages
Yes, languages, as in plural! The first and far most important thing when translating copy is having a thorough understanding of the source language (the original language) and the target or receptor language (the language you are translating into).
2. Pay close attention to grammar and spelling
If you are looking to produce top-notch translations, you must pay close attention to grammatical structure, spelling, and punctuation. Even more so, when your languages vary considerably in form.
A good example is when translating a document written in English to French. Here, your source language has no accents; but your target language has five types of accents. And while you might think this is minor, accents will impact how a person reads and interprets your text.
Plus, if your goal is to appear professional, there is no room for sloppy spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
3. Understand the syntax
It is critical for you to understand the syntax and linguistic principles of both languages at hand. By doing so, you are making sure your translations will not end up looking like those automatic translations, where 90% of the time, the meaning gets lost.
For instance, when translating from English to Spanish, most people will translate passive phrases as is. But, in reality, there are usually other, more natural ways to translate those phrases by using reflexive verbs.
Take a look at these examples:
–> The door can be opened.
La puerta puede ser abierta vs. Se puede abrir la puerta
–>The task must be completed by noon.
La tarea debe ser terminada para el mediodía vs. La tarea se debe terminar antes del mediodía.
4. Focus on the meaning
A rookie mistake is to translate your text word by word. However, this is possibly the last thing you want to do! A good translation will center on the meaning of the text rather than the words it uses. Keep in mind that the same phrase or idea can be written very differently depending on the language.
5. Consider the text’s objective and target audience
A good translation manages to convey the message effectively and with little-to-no alterations by staying true to the original text’s tone and style.
Why is this important? Simple. You wouldn’t want a professional e-mail or legal document to be translated using slang or informalities. And you probably wouldn’t want to translate a funny advertising campaign or Instagram caption using formal language to the point it loses its wittiness.
6. Never trust automatic translations
Unless you are working with state of the art technology (or software you have thoroughly vetted), you should never trust an automatic translation. These apps and tools are great when traveling and looking to translate simple phrases such as “Where is the bathroom? And they can even prove to be helpful when looking to translate a particular word or verb.
If you are looking to translate long texts or complete documents, using an automatic translator is not the way to go! Computerized translations are literal translations and often come with a plethora of mistakes including:
- Discrepancies of singular/plural agreement or masculine/feminine agreement
- Poor punctuation
- Incorrect use of verb tenses
- Unclear terminology
- And more
Hence, if you are looking for a good translation, the smartest thing to do is to stay away from online translation tools.
7. Don’t re-write the text
It is crucial for you to remember that your task is to translate the material, not to re-write the text at hand. So, unless you come across an undeniable mistake or explicit typo, you should let your document appears as a faithful translation from the original text.
8. Do Your Homework
More often than not, people are so preoccupied with the task that they forget to ask or look for tools that could make the job easier. There is nothing wrong with consulting style guides, glossaries, and terminology databases. It is highly encouraged!
Thus, identify relevant reference sources on the web for the subject you are going to translate and read through examples of similar translations. This will help you transform a “fair” translation into a “good” translation.
9. Always proofread your text
This tip applies not only to translations but to nearly anything concerning writing or editing text. You should always proofread your text as this type of revision will allow you to:
– Fix inconsistencies
– Correct grammatical or spelling mistakes
– Review your punctuation
– Better format your text
I usually recommend you proofread your text in two stages. In the first stage, compare each paragraph you wrote to those in the original document. Go one by one, without overlooking sentences or phrases (even if they seem relatively simple or straightforward.) Once you have finished this first step in your revision, read your entire translation out loud. If it sounds right, you are probably good to go; but, if some sentences or words seem out of place, you should try to edit them.
10. When in doubt, seek help
And last but not least, know that when translating, it truly helps if the person responsible for the translation is a native speaker or a professional translator.
Native speakers and specialists can pick-up on nuances or details that you could have missed, and that affects your text’s natural flow. Plus, by seeking help from a qualified person, you will also reduce the chances of making mistakes and improve your translation’s accuracy.