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Linguists like to think of themselves as professionals, and part of being a professional translator is having your translation reviewed by other linguists or a client or someone a client designates. It is worth noting that not all translators take on editing or proofreading assignments for various reasons. The adage that “the only thing two translators can agree upon is that a third’s translation is no good” may spawn reluctance on the part of some to scrutinize another linguist’s work as part of a translation review.  Some translators feel they are not working as productively when editing and getting paid by the hour compared to when they are translating and have the incentive of getting paid by the word. Others perhaps don’t like the sense of responsibility that comes with being tasked to find the defects in another linguist’s work and “having the last word” in the translation review process. 

And then there is the current and growing industry trend to outsource translations to inexperienced but cheap labor and then have a more qualified, senior translator clean the work up. I know many translators who decline to take on such work and fix the messes made by less qualified translators, and I can hardly blame them. What is billed as a translation review frequently becomes a time and labor intensive translation re-do.

And yet it is all but inevitable that one will have to interface with a translation reviewer at some point. Best practices and due diligence demand it. Anyone who writes knows the value of an eagle-eyed editor with a smart pencil. But to make the translation review process a smooth and productive one, it is helpful to adopt a certain etiquette when discussing the text and the proposed changes.

  • Tip 1: Use the word correction only if a true error is being remedied. Nothing will raise the hackles of another linguist more than having a gratuitous stylistic or otherwise unnecessary revision being called a correction.  
  • Tip 2: Similarly, only use the word error or mistake if there is a truly objective flaw that requires correction.
  • Tip 3: Even if you are correcting a gross error or omission, you may not want to rub your colleague’s nose in it. So be polite and refer to your “revision” instead.
  • Tip 4: If the changes you are making are not corrections of factual errors, but changes you feel are necessary or just worthwhile to improve the text for consistency or stylistic reasons, etc., then you’ll do the professional discourse a big favor by speaking of changes, revisions, alterations or suggestions and comments.  

Remember, if you give a text to six different translators, you will get back six different translations. This does not mean that one of the translations is correct and the other five are wrong. There are many ways to express a thought and texts usually end up being of a higher quality when an editor’s input is considered as part of a translation review.

In other words, collaborate, don’t confront. For more information about best practices in translation click on the preceding link.

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