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Tell your translator the purpose of your translation

This text was written by Levent Yildizgoren and originally published on his company’s blog. I decided to republish it on TCZ because it addresses in a lot more detail one of the items tacked in my article Defining project specifications, namely, the importance of informing translators of the purpose of a text. Thanks a lot for sharing it with us, Levent!

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When choosing to translate any form of communication, informing the translator of the purpose of the text is paramount. Specifying the purpose of the translation will not only ensure that it is fit for purpose, but will also save you time and money. Is the translation required for a short business email, to be published on a website or just to understand the gist of the information?

Literal translations express text word for word and are devoid of any undertone or nuances. They are usually intended to understand the content of the source text, for instance back translations. With literal translation any internal inconsistency or error in the source text will be transferred into the final translation. A publication standard translation, stylistic and professional, is far from the literal example.

For the majority of translations, successfully conveying the meaning of the text is more important than remaining faithful to the original lexis. There are varying degrees of freedom in translation. The translator has to make difficult decisions with regards to grammatical and sentential issues, cultural transposition, tone, and social register. To classify a text can be tricky, but the key is to provide as much relevant information as possible. Generally it is clear whether a text is fictional or non-fictional. However, the purpose or context is often a point for clarification. Most non-fictional texts can be categorized as below:

  • Informative (commercial) – magazine article, advertisement
  • Informative (persuasive) – political tract, business pitch, marketing communication
  • Informative (empirical) – technical manuals

Is the article to convince, inform, inspire, console? The list is endless.

In order to ensure that the translator can classify the material correctly, it is important not only to supply the purpose of the text, but also the context in which it will be used. The sentence structure and vocabulary used in the translation will vary according to the information that you provide. For example, the level of language used for a user manual would not be suitable for a magazine article. The purpose of a text will also affect the manner in which cultural references and idiomatic phrases are conveyed.

With regards to context, if the translation is an addition to previous work (in a brochure, perhaps), providing any reference material or supplying a glossary of terminology will ensure that the translation is consistent and functional.

Who is the translation aimed at? The target audience plays a vital role in deciding the style and register of the translation. Tone has a great impact on the way the text is received and in turn how successful the translation is.

The amount of information that the translator has will determine the extent to which s/he can compensate for translation loss in the finished article. Professional translators are trained to recognize the requirements of a text, to make decisions that will effectively communicate the style and meaning of a text with minimal distortion of the original copy.

A translator’s choice of vocabulary throughout the translation process will directly affect the success of the translation. Providing the purpose and context of the translation will ensure that these decisions are informed decisions.

Subtitling – Part II

(4)    Why didn’t you list (audio) transcription as a common step of the subtitling process?

Transcription of the audio is not necessarily part of subtitling. A common misconception is that the translator needs to type the text in the original language before, and only then begin working on the subtitles proper. The truth is most translators work faster by listening to the audio in one language and typing it directly into the other language.

Nevertheless, the transcribed material is sometimes used by clients for preparing manuals or other sorts of texts in the source language (i.e. original language). Most subtitling professionals will provide you with the transcription if you make it clear you also need the original content in writing. Remember this service takes time and, therefore, should be agreed upon beforehand. It will certainly be charged as an extra service.

(5)    How many professionals do I need to hire?

This depends on what product you need and the type of professional(s) you hire. Some translators only do the linguistic part of the job, whereas others handle the full video editing process. Some of them will deliver the subtitled video after having outsourced the video editing phase, for instance. Here’s our advice: describe the final product you need; the translator will most likely give you some options and tell you what s/he is able or unable to do.

To maximize your results and minimize costs, we suggest you do everything at once. Translating the material this week with one professional, then looking for another professional to edit the film next month might result in wasted time and money. Even if two or more professionals are involved, the process will be streamlined if they can communicate and agree on certain technical details.

(6)    Besides the video itself, what other material should I provide?

Other than the reference materials you’d usually send before any sort of translation task, good written support materials (audio transcription, original script, dialog list, etc.) often make translators less prone to misunderstanding the audio. It might also speed up the process, since the professional won’t have to listen to an unclear excerpt numerous times before s/he gets the right message. Many translators add a surcharge when this type of written reference material is not available.

(7)    Are there legal issues, such as intellectual rights, that I should be concerned about?

If you are the creator or legal owner of the audiovisual material, you obviously have the right to translate and distribute it. And, when you hire a translator, you usually retain the intellectual rights over the translation as well. This may not be the case in every country and every situation, though. So, if you have intellectual property concerns, discuss them with the translator in advance.

In the case of third-party contents (films or TV shows, videos from another company, or even materials downloaded from websites such as YouTube), you must acquire the rights to translate them and distribute it. A copyright breach could entail legal consequences for you and the professionals involved.

Now that you know a bit more about subtitling, we hope you can optimize the communication with your translator from the onset of each project and, consequently, achieve the best results. Feel free to email us and use the comment section to ask questions about subtitling and the audiovisual translation field.