During and after the translation

“Most translators are not looking for glory. […] They simply want the ability to do the best job they can. They want to be proud of the difficult work they do. Giving them a closer relationship with the buyer facilitates that.”
– Nataly Kelly, Common Sense Advisory

This post is the continuation of what was discussed in “Resources and planning” and “The file to be translated.” If you haven’t read those, I’d suggest you start from there. The aim of this series of posts is to give you hints on how to achieve the best results by doing what you can to help the translator do his/her job faster and with greater accuracy. Below are some recommended actions you should take during the translation process itself and afterwards.

  • Respond to your translator’s questions

An inquiring mind usually makes a good language professional. Competent translators and revisers practically “dissect” the text throughout the project. As a result, more often than not they run into inconsistencies, ambiguities, cloudy areas, and the like. Their best shot at solving these puzzles is through the author, who supposedly knows everything the text intends to communicate. So, if you’re the author or have contact with him/her, you’d do well to let the translators know from the start that you can be contacted for clarification.

Here comes the most important piece of advice in this regard: make sure you or your team replies to the translator’s inquiries in a timely manner. Keep in mind that schedules are usually tight and that any unclear word or sentence might interfere in the understanding of the whole message. Sometimes a translator gets stuck and is only able to go on after that bit is clarified. So by responding to your translator’s questions right away, you can avoid delaying the process even more, which is of course in your own best interest. 

  • Send feedback and the revised version of a translation

Now suppose the project is done: you got your translation, read it, started using it… this is the end of your interaction with the language professional (at least until the next project), right? Not quite, unless you intend to use a new service provider every time you need a translation.

Nobody wants to be changing or correcting the same thing time and again. So, if you have someone in your team capable of revising the translation well, have this person go through the translated text (as I said in a previous post, this is a tricky situation I will discuss in the near future). Ideally use a word processor’s track change tool or highlight any alterations. Then make sure to send the revised version to your translator. An experienced professional will know how to analyze the modifications critically and incorporate the preferred styles, terms, words, expressions, or phrases into future texts.

Let’s not forget that most translators today work with translation memory tools (to have an idea of what this is, refer to my last post). Another advantage of this technology is the incorporated search tool: the professional can easily retrieve previously translated content to see how s/he translated words, terms or expressions and the context in which they were used. Needless to say, consistency is a key element in any well-written text and also among different texts of the same company. CAT tools can guarantee 100% consistency if handled appropriately by the translator and updated according to your revisions.

Since healthy relationships involve the exchange of constructive criticism, don’t be afraid of talking about mistakes with your service provider. Conversely, if your translator did an awesome job, go ahead and tell him/her. Committed professionals will be pleased to hear they’re on the right track and will always try to do better.

I started out intending to write a single post about this topic and ended up with a series of three (so far). This is a hint of how much there is to discuss about actions you might take in this regard. Interestingly, in writing these initial posts, I realized that a great deal of this blog will have to do with giving you the right tools to get the most for your money by collaborating with your translator.

I recognize that clients sometimes have no control over some situations. It’s enough that you might now be more aware of the best-case scenario and of the benefits you can get in return. If you decide to follow these recommendations the next time you get the chance, feel free to share the results with us.

The file to be translated

In my last post I started giving translation buyers tips on how to collaborate with a translator for their own interest. Below are some other actions you can benefit from.

  • Send the final version of a text

Make every effort to ensure that the text you send for translation is the final, revised version. If that’s not possible, the least you can do is to highlight any last-minute changes or make them visible by using a word processor tool that tracks changes made. Expect to be charged accordingly and, depending on how much of the text has been altered, to renegotiate the deadline.

What you definitely should avoid is an endless back-and-forth of emails with various versions of the same text, especially after the translator has started his/her job—this is the perfect recipe for wasting time and, most likely, wasting money.

  • Send editable files

Translators translate. Simple, right? Yet, some people think they can send a translator an image and have it back with everything exactly the same, except for the language. Well, it’s totally feasible, but this is another service your translator can offer you—and not all translators do. Some of us love desktop publishing and have a great time formatting texts, making charts, preparing tables, creating images… whereas others aren’t very good at it, don’t like it, or simply think it’s not worth the time it takes them. They’d rather focus on what they do best: translations.

Most translators will ask you for an editable file. That said, editable PDFs are OK but not ideal. Sometimes it’s also possible to copy the content from a given file and paste it into a word-processor file, but some of the formatting might be lost. This happens especially when the document has other than plain text.

The best file format can not only be edited, but is also supported by the computer-assisted translation tools (CAT tools) that your service provider uses. Now a brief parenthesis is crucial here: CAT tools and, more specifically, translation memory software, are NOT the same as machine translation tools (more on these two subjects in the future). In a nutshell, a translation memory is a file that stores the sentences/segments translated by the user. So if your translator comes across the same or similar content, the software offers a prompt of whatever s/he has written in previous texts, helping to maintain consistency. One of the advantages of such tools is that the formatting is usually left untouched.

In cases when you don’t have an editable file, reactions will vary from translator to translator. You might be asked to send the material to a professional who can transform it into an editable text before the translator does his/her job. The translator might choose to type the translated text into a word-processor file, and you’ll be responsible for the final formatting. Alternatively, the translator might offer to do the formatting for you (and charge accordingly) or refer you to a colleague who can do this task.

The perfect way to end this part of the discussion is by using an excerpt from the January 2007 section “Business Smarts” of the ATA Chronicle (a journal of the American Translators Association), entitled “Working with PDFs”:

“Some colleagues have established a fixed surcharge for working from hardcopy and PDF documents to compensate for the extra formatting requirements and the difficulty of using computer-assisted translation tools. In many cases, even direct clients will provide an editable copy of documents […] if they are informed that translating a PDF document takes longer and therefore costs more.”

As this article shows, it’s also a matter of reducing the margin for error:

“They [translation buyers] may also be pleased to learn that a translator working from native word-processor files can offer better quality and accuracy, since elements such as tables and lists do not need to be laboriously (and possibly inaccurately) re-typed.”

It should be clear by now that collaborating with your translator is not only about making his/her life easier. Most importantly, it’s about doing what you can to get the best possible end product.

On a lighter note…

By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos

Resources and planning

There’s no doubt that the most interested party in the success of a translation should be the client. However, there are a number of ways in which you might fail to help improve the translation process for lack of information about it. Or, even worse, you might interfere negatively in the outcome.

With this in mind, I’ve listed some measures that ideally should be taken by whoever is involved in a translation project, and not only by those specifically assigned as project managers. I emphasized “ideally” because I understand that real-life situations sometimes get out of hand. Let’s just say the following recommendations are the ultimate best-case scenario, in which everybody wins.

There are still many other tips to come, but I hope the few suggestions below are a good starting point.

  • Plan ahead

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead and giving translators the time they need to achieve excellence. If you’ve been working with the same translator for a while, you should have an idea of how much time s/he needs to accomplish a given task. Nevertheless, productivity varies from person to person, from text to text, even from day to day. Also, keep in mind that various “obstacles” might get in your translator’s way at any given time: s/he might be booked for another project and juggling with two or more texts, instead of offering you full-time dedication; the content of your text might differ from what s/he is used to, making the translation take longer; s/he might be busy with personal issues or even planning to go on vacation… and so on and so forth.

What I recommend is talking to your translator about upcoming projects as soon as you know about them. If your company deals with routine translation projects, for instance, there’s no reason for not giving timely notices. Of course you can’t effectively book someone until you know more details such as dates, length of the text, contents, etc. An organized translator will be grateful to know something’s around the corner, and will possibly bear it in mind when working on his/her own schedule.

On your end, make sure everyone involved in the production of the original text observes the time frame. The deadlines should consider the translator’s work and a final reading of the translated text by your team. Be careful, though: having your staff “edit” the translation is a double-edged sword and should be done very carefully and responsibly (I’ll come back to this issue in a future post).

Tight turn-around times are usually accompanied by rush fees, and these are expenses you want to avoid. On top of that, keep in mind that hectic schedules might also affect the quality of the final text—this topic will be discussed in more detail soon.

  • Provide reference materials

When talking about ways to avoid mistakes in technical texts, Chris Durban suggests that you “use in-house subject-matter specialists to provide vocabulary and background materials up front.” This advice certainly applies to all types of texts and media. It’s important to make available to translators any sort of material that is somehow related to the text to be translated.

If you have relevant bilingual documents such as previously translated content, don’t even hesitate! Other useful materials include glossaries (monolingual or bilingual), lists of preferred terms, style sheets, lists of acronyms and their meanings written out, etc. Experienced translators are usually trained to spot pertinent terms, expressions, phrases, and other elements of style that are present even in monolingual texts. So go ahead and send out that 2002 report in English, even though you cannot find its Spanish translation. Likewise, any type of relevant text in the target language (i.e. language into which a text is translated) will be highly appreciated.

These supporting materials will help maintain consistency among your company’s texts and assist your translator in providing high-quality services. They might even shorten the turn-around time.

As you can see, we all benefit from these measures. You increase your chances of getting an impeccable final text, and translators appreciate this support and consideration that help them meet their client’s needs faster and more efficiently.