The realities of translation: Dealing with subjectivity

Translation & Localization10 June 20153.8k

What makes for a good translation? This can often be very hard to clarify as the nature of language means there is more than one way to express the same sentiment.

Context is all important when it comes to words, while idioms and phrases are unlikely to translate across language borders. No two human translators are going to translate a document the same, but this doesn’t mean either are wrong.

As there is no consistent way to ascribe quality, aside from pointing out grammatical errors, companies need to deal with the issue of subjectivity in a structured way to ensure customer expectations are both managed and fulfilled. 

Know your audience
The people intended to read the document are going to influence the type of language used. For example, sophisticated technical processes do not need to be explained if the content is being aimed at experts within the field. However, if you’re talking to the general public, additional information will be required to ensure they can fully grasp the topic in question. Eliminating any doubt around this issue gives translators the best chance of creating a final version that meets your own brand guidelines and resonates with the target audience. 

Establish a quality standard
High-quality source material will mitigate against the majority of subjectivity problems. By having firm guidelines on how source content is created, firms can make sure their output is as ‘translation ready’ as possible. For instance, if certain words are known to create linguistic problems in different languages because of different interpretations, it is best to avoid them. 

Technology is your friend
Human translators should not fear technology. Instead, they need to view these resources as an essential part of the process, as these skills will aid and improve a person’s ability to consistently produce high-quality translations. Computer Aided Translation tools, Translation Memory (TM), QA tools, glossaries and multilingual corporate style guides all help to give a high degree of quality control to any project.

Get your in-country reviewers on the same page
If your in-country reviewers have a detailed understanding of what is expected of them, they are more likely to develop finished copy that everyone is happy with. As well as having sufficient competence in the source and target languages, these people also need to be able to show they have assessed quality in an impressive manner in the past. You should always trust your in-country approver’s judgment.

Patience is key
The subjectivity of language means there will always be some teething issues. A translator may choose a certain word without realizing the client does not want it used. This is where using resources efficiently and constantly updating glossaries and style guides is essential, as it will help to shorten the learning curve. At the heart of subjectivity is the need for understanding on both sides, as problems should actually be treated as an opportunity to engage on what are complicated issues. 


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