ABPT Best Practices for Translators
Before beginning a new project, be certain you understand the client’s needs and expectations. Do not shy away from asking questions. Below is a list of basic guidelines you might find useful.
Read the entire document before beginning the translation. Unless the client gives permission, translators are not allowed to edit source text. If anything in the document is inconsistent or unclear, ask the project contact person about these issues. Also make note of any other documents mentioned and try to obtain a copy from the client (see Consistency).
Project Contact Person
Ideally, your client will assign a contact person to each translation project. Ask the client who will be available 1) to answer questions about the document and 2) to approve the translation. You should be in contact with both of them.
Your reputation as a professional is contingent upon reliability. Always meet the deadlines agreed upon. Never surprise a client the day you are supposed to turn in a translated document by saying that it is not ready. In the unique instance where you foresee that the document will not be ready, alert your client, giving this enough time to make the necessary arrangements. Further, never commit to a project that you know you will not have enough time to complete.
Always make sure you understand the layout requirements. Should the layout of the translation comply with any particular requirements? The client might prefer a facsimile of the original or that the target document and source document match page for page. Before you invest time replicating an elaborate layout, first make certain that the client wants the layout replicated.
Who is the intended readership of the document you are translating? Is it for the client’s in-house use or is it part of a promotional campaign that targets the public? Use the appropriate stylistic conventions. If the style of the source document is incongruous with the target audience, ask the client to clarify. The audience might be factory workers with no more than a 6th grade reading level. Do you use vocabulary and sentence length that correlates to the audience reading level, or do you use the same reading level as the source document? These issues should be addressed with the client. After all, why translate something that might not be understood by the intended audience? Make certain you understand the role of the professional translator under this scenario. Also be certain you confirm into which language variant the translation should be made. As you know, Castilian Spanish differs from Mexican Spanish, Simplified Chinese differs from traditional Chinese, and so on. Needless to say, the final proofreading should be done by someone from the same language region as the audience of the translation.
Is it necessary to translate the entire document? Consult with the client about sections or portions of the document that 1) are not relevant for the intended readers, 2) are repetitive, or 3) might not make sense to foreign readers. Also inquire as to whether tables and graphics (figures, diagrams, equations, flow charts, etc.) should be incorporated with the text, and if so, whether they should be converted into the appropriate system, if applicable. Translate only those portions of the document that need to be translated.
Make every effort to be consistent within the document and in future projects for the client. Of course, the use of Translation Memory (TM) systems is of great help and should be used, especially when multiple translators are working on the same set of documents. Before you begin, ask the client for a copy of documents that might relate to those you are translating. You can use the client’s existing terminology to maintain consistency.
As you come across new terminology, be sure to note industry-specific terms and transliterated items and check them throughout to maintain uniformity.
Terminology is another way of saying “specialized lexicography,” which is the “discipline dedicated to the collection and study of the forms and meanings of the words of a given language.” Once we specialize a lexicon to a particular field or discipline, we are referring to the corresponding terminology. Technical translation requires the mastery of specialized bilingual terminologies and their consistent use throughout the document and the company.
Why is terminology management important? Uniform and consistent use of terminology lies at the heart of effective translations. If the consistent use of terminology is ignored, terms could be used arbitrarily across documents, service instructions, marketing literature, etc. For the sake of clarity and understanding, the consistent use of terminology is critical.
It is important to establish and use a content system that manages terminology by subject field, taking into account the evolution of specialized concepts and language usage within the field. The system should be kept up-to-date by adding, deleting, and modifying data, ideally in real time. The system can then produce bilingual glossaries, vocabularies, and terminology standards.
Create a Glossary
If the client does not provide you with a multilingual glossary of words specific and unique to his or her organization, create one. This will enable you to ensure consistency within the document and on future projects as well as save you time (and the client money) later. Ideally, you will be using translation memory tools to aid you in this task. Tools such as SDL MultiTerm are valuable for ensuring consistency.
In general, clients should be advised that culturally specific references (sports, entertainment, humor) do not translate well. Translate these without the cultural reference.
Do not translate personal names or that of organizations, except in cases where the client asks you to do so. One option is to transliterate the name, then include the original after the transliteration. If this is not possible, simply leave the name in the original language.
Do not translate addresses. Leave them in the source language.
Use western numbers for addresses and phone numbers and convert measurements into the system used by that country (metric vs. customary). Ask the client for phone numbers that are local to that of the target audience. If you must use non-local numbers, ask permission to include the numbers for dialing internationally, such as the country code.
Spell out acronyms in the translation.
No Equivalent Meaning
When translating industry-specific material, certain terms may not have equivalent meanings in the language of translation. You have two options in these cases: transliterate and follow with an explanation in brackets, or if transliteration is not possible, leave the word in the source language and provide a translated explanation.
When working on a project that includes software as well as other documents (i.e., a manual), translate the software first and create a glossary of terms to aid in the translation of the additional materials.
Editing and Proofreading
Before turning in a completed project, have another translator edit your work. He or she may catch mistakes and be able to offer suggestions on problematic areas in the document. Another translator should then proofread the final product. The translated document should be checked for correct terminology, spelling, sentence structure, and syntax. The target text should read like a piece originally written in the target language.
Before delivering the document, confer with the project contact person. How should the translation be delivered? Methods of delivery include paper, diskette, CD-ROM, electronic file, fax, and e-mail. If the translation is to be physically delivered, where and how? The client’s address, an intermediary, both? By courier, certified mail, FedEx? Ask if the source text and reference materials are to be returned as well. If not, should they be destroyed or retained? Finally, ask whether the translation must be certified. If so, acquire the certification before delivery (see Certification).
Client Communication When clients have questions at any point in the translation process, respond quickly and professionally. Give as much information as possible and be open to collaborating with the client.
Preserve strict confidentiality with regard to any industry-sensitive material you translate. Be prepared to sign confidentiality agreements with your clients, but even if you are not required to sign an agreement, understand that you are still bound by confidentiality.
Certification Certification by the American Translators Association (ATA) is not a prerequisite for working as a translator; however, in the U.S. certification is one way to recognize the competence and credentials of potential translators. You must be a member of the ATA to take the exam. A complete explanation of the exam and how it is graded as well as the exam registration form is on the ATA website (www.atanet.org).
With regard to certification of Translations, there is no official licensing in the U.S. nor any standard means of “certifying” a translation. The common practice when a client requests certification, however, is to attach an “Affidavit of Accuracy,” signed and notarized by a notary public, to the translation.
Continuing Education The best translators are familiar with the subject matter they are translating. Make every effort to stay updated on current trends and advances in your area of specialization. Keep reading and practicing your native language, take courses, and stay abreast of cultural and linguistic developments.
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