Honing the Craft: Polish Your Translations like a Monolingual Editor

26 Mar 2015
Honing the Craft: Polish Your Translations like a Monolingual Editor

Rely on your native mastery to achieve a final product that reads not as a translation, but as an original work, and your clients will thank you for it.
Written by freelance translator Stefanie Ramsden Dougherty

One very important and often underrated step of the translation process is polishing the language of the translated text prior to delivery. 

Of course the translation needs to be accurate and grammatically correct; those qualities go without saying. But if you can take the extra step to ensure that the language flows as if it were originally written in the target language, entirely uninfluenced by the structure or vocabulary of the source language, then the quality of final product will be elevated from merely acceptable to excellent.

While it may seem that style is subjective, our focus here could qualify more as an objective matter, as it asks an essential yes-or-no question: Would a native speaker be likely to word this thought in this way? When the answer is “no,” we must put our flexible, bilingual translation minds aside, and instead employ one of our most valuable assets: our native mastery of the target language.

Below is one simple example borrowed from a French-to-English translation, yet this is not a language-specific issue; the approach simply requires the translator to move beyond merely conveying the meaning and to draft a sentence that reads naturally in the target language, whatever that may be.

EXAMPLE: 

Toute modification du nom d’utilisateur d’un compte doit être accompagnée de manière obligatoire de la modification du mot de passe.

Literal translation (provided for those who do not read French): 

Any change of the username of an account must be accompanied in an obligatory manner by a change of the password.

Acceptable translation: 

It is mandatory for any change of the username on an account to be accompanied by a change of the password.

This is an acceptable translation because it accurately and correctly conveys the meaning of the source text. Would a native U.S. English speaker understand this? Absolutely. However, there is still room for improvement, and this is the crux of the matter at hand: Would a native U.S. English speaker spontaneously express this thought as it is worded above? Let’s be honest. It’s highly unlikely.

Better translation:

Whenever the username on an account is changed, the password must also be changed.

In terms of structure, this is a more natural way of expressing the thought. Yet we could take it a step further still, remembering that in a technical support context such as this, it would be more common to address the reader directly.

Even better translation:

Whenever you change the username on an account, you must also change the password.

As translators, if we can apply this approach to each idea in a given text, the final product transforms from tedious to effortless for the reader. Do this successfully, and your clients will appreciate your work for its professionalism and readability, making them more likely to return to you in the future.

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