“If you do not invest time to brief your suppliers, there is little chance that you will get what you want or need. It may take only 10 minutes longer than telling your assistant to ‘get this translated,’ but if the right person spends those 10 minutes chatting to the translator (or even the project manager), you will probably save money and stress further down the line.”
– Chris Durban
When discussing quality in translation, I wrote that the product should comply with the client’s instructions. For this to happen, you must communicate your needs properly in the first place. But what needs, exactly? Well, it varies from project to project, but there are several details you should tell your translator.
A fascinating aspect of translation is the possibility of rendering a text in countless “right ways.” The right way for you depends on what you need and how exactly you want it. Don’t expect your translator to rely on assumptions and guess your preferences and needs. Good communication is key.
In November 2010 I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Alan Melby on how to measure translation quality. At that time, he had listed as many as 21 translation project parameters, i.e. specifications that should be given to translators if quality is to be achieved. Together, Durban and Melby chose the top ten items that were included in the publication Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity. Here’s their list, followed by a set of questions/comments I have added:
(1) Audience – Who (ideally) is supposed to read your text? Should the translator have the lay public or specialists in mind? Academics or high-school students?
(2) Purpose – Is your text going to be used in a brochure to persuade someone to do something? Is it for internal communication or for relating to clients/prospects? Do you need just to get the gist of a text or is it for publication? Most of the time the purpose of a text is also linked to its type—see item 5 below.
(3) Deadline – When does the text have to be delivered? If needed, establish partial deliveries up front. Sometimes not only the date counts, but also the time of delivery (in which case, be clear about your time zone).
(4) Price – How much is the translator getting paid? Is the project being paid per source word (volume of the original text) or per target word (volume of the translated text)? Alternatively, is the professional being paid by the hour? (I intend to write about how translators usually calculate their rates.) Also discuss details such as when (upon delivery? a week later? a month later?) and how (via bank transfer? by check? PayPal? Western Union?) this amount is to be paid.
(5) Subject area and type of text – The clearest way of dealing with these specifications is by sending the whole text up front for the translator to analyze. If this is not possible, a sample usually works. Remember that most translators specialize in certain areas, meaning that there are subject areas they don’t feel capable of translating well. For your own good, don’t insist if a professional refuses to take part in a project (refer to item #3 of the American Translators Association Code of Ethics and Professional Practice). As for the text type, is it a letter? A sales agreement? A training video?
(6) Source language and regional variation – Is it written in Canadian or South African English? European or Brazilian Portuguese? Spanish from Chile, Peru, or Venezuela? There may be significant regional differences that interfere with the translator’s understanding and decision making.
(7) Format – First off, inform the translator about the media: is it a written text, an image, a video, or an audio file? Then, is it an editable PDF, DOC, or HTML file? AVI or MPEG video? Also, in what format should the target text be delivered?
(8) Volume – How long is the text? For written texts, it’s generally better to consider the word count. The number of pages doesn’t always help, since there are variables such as number of columns, font size, spacing between lines, etc. As with item 5 above, sending the whole text up front allows for a precise analysis.
(9) Target language and regional variation – Is the text supposed to be read mainly by Brazilians or by Portuguese people? By Mexicans, Spaniards, or Argentines?
(10) Steps to be followed – Is there going to be, for instance, bilingual revision by another professional after the translation proper? What about monolingual revision? Is the text being sent for the translator’s approval after each step or at the end? Who’s taking care of these phases of the project? Also, discuss deadlines for each step.
Sometimes you’ll have to negotiate a few of these items, such as price and the end format, but others are merely facts that need to be communicated—preferably in writing. They’re essential especially when you’re dealing with new service providers. With long-time collaborators who already know what you usually need, make sure to let them know when any of these parameters diverge from the “standard.”
On a lighter note…
By Alejandro Moreno-Ramos