In this Blog Series, we’re exploring the many aspects of assessing translation quality. So far, we’ve discussed the importance of assessing translation quality (Part 1), learned how to measure errors or defects (Part 2), gained an understanding of the categories and severity levels of errors (Part 3), surveyed ten critical success factors for planning quality translations (Part 4), and distinguished between the subjective and objective (Part 5), and looked beyond the words assess whether the finished product meets the intended purpose and use of the material (Part 6). In this Part 7, we’ll go back to the source … the source document, that is!
Common sense tells us that translation cannot fix a bad document. If the source document itself is of poor quality, the translated document will suffer the same fate. That’s why assessing the source document itself, before sending it for translation, is vital to the translation quality process.
Th Google Developers team puts it this way: “Write in US English, but write with translation in mind.” Whether your source language is US English or another language, when your readers span different languages and cultures, assess your source documents for the following key elements to help ensure quality translation:
- Keep sentences short and simple. Look for opportunities to divide long, complex sentences into two or more shorter sentences. For example: “It is important to review the instructions carefully before gathering your materials, after which you can begin work.” Vs. “First review the instructions. Next, gather your materials. Then you can begin work.”
- Avoid colloquialisms. Americans use colloquialisms like they’re going out of style (yes – that was intentional!). Remember that different languages and cultures likely won’t understand American slang and colloquialisms (and vice versa).
- Be consistent with terminology. Pick a term and stick with it throughout the document. For example, when writing instructions for operating a machine, pick one term to refer to the person operating the machine: operator, user, end user, machinist, employee.
- Use the active voice. Sentences written in the active voice tend to be shorter and more direct. They are also easier to understand. Example: “The active voice should be used” vs. “Use the active voice.”
- Limit pronouns. Different languages use pronouns differently. In French, for example, “il” could mean either “he” or “it.” Replace pronouns with nouns, where possible.
- Avoid words and phrases that can be both singular and plural. Words like “mail” and “fish” are both singular and plural in English. Likewise, some two-word phrases can be confusing as to which word is meant to be singular or plural. For example, does “document update” mean updating a single document, or a process for updating documents generally?
- Stay positive. Whenever possible, avoid negative constructions. For example: “Log in to place your order,” vs. “You cannot place an order unless you log in.”
- Avoid abbreviations. The abbreviation “etc.” is common in English, but in other languages it is a string of letters that means nothing. If abbreviations are needed, be sure to provide a glossary.
- Be careful with “helping” verbs (technical term: modal verbs). Verbs like “shall” and “should,” “will and “would,” “may” and “might,” “can” and “could,” and “must” help to interpret how the main verb should be understood. But they can also inject ambiguity. For example, “You should turn in your timesheet by 5 p.m. each Friday.” Does this mean you “must” or that it’s just a good idea?
- Allow for different spacing. Different alphabets take up more or less space than English. A good rule of thumb is to allow for text expansion up to 30% of the original text.
- Be direct. Unless you’re writing a marketing piece or other content that requires superlatives and “fancy” language, choose direct, simple language. For example: “It is imperative that you consider all the various options available prior to choosing the optimal solution.” Vs. “Consider all of the options before choosing the best solution.”
- Consider cultural differences. Some languages have formal and informal language choices, such as Spanish. Honorifics and attitudes toward hierarchy can affect how your write for global audiences. Make sure your style has the right level of formality to avoid unintended offense.
These are just a few of the many best practices that we at Vocalink Global espouse to ensure your translations are of the highest quality, every time.
Assessing Quality at the Source
When assessing the quality of translated content, remember to check the original source document. By following the above guidelines, you can proactively ensure that your translated works maintain the integrity of their original meaning. As always, we at Vocalink Global are here to support and ease your translation process. Connect with us anytime!