How to Translate: My Translation Technique

Bonjour tout le monde!

If any of you have ever studied translation at university or have experience working with/talking to translators, then you will know that translation technique is a hot topic! But how do you translate a text?

Should translation be literal (as in word-for-word) or should it be free? Are translation techniques binary, or do they fall on a spectrum? What about localisation (e.g. should cultural references be changed so they are more relatable for the reader or should we be aiming to teach readers about a different culture through their reading?) And how about CAT tools – are they a help or a hindrance?

Personally, I think it depends on several factors: the translator themselves and their preferred method of working and style of TT (target text e.g. the translation), the type and genre of text you’re dealing with and what the client wants.

For more technical and straightforward texts, I personally love using CAT tools. You can add terms directly to a term base, which saves you from having to look them up every time they come up, as the translation is already there, which in turn improves consistency of the text. You can also share term bases, so if a group of translators are working on different projects for the same client, their translations will also be consistent.

However, the difficult comes with less literal texts, such as novels or poetry, where the seemingly arbitrary way in which the CAT tool breaks up the text can hinder the fluidity of the literary style. It can also be difficult to translate any file submitted as a PDF, particularly if there are handwritten passages or official stamps, as sometimes the CAT tool cannot read these properly and renders the ST (source text) incorrectly, thus making it impossible to translate! Nonetheless, I find them to be invaluable and my favourite CAT tool is MemoQ, because the layout is very easy to use and the programme itself is very simple. I found SDL Trados to be overly complicated (and expensive), so made the decision not to buy it; however, a lot of translation agencies do use SDL Trados, but never fear! They should be able to export the SDL Trados file in a format which is compatible with MemoQ, meaning that the fact that I don’t use SDL Trados does not impede my working with clients who do.

So, what is my technique for translating?

1) Translate the file (in MemoQ or otherwise) loosely

At this stage, I am aiming for a basic translation that is not necessarily in perfect English, but is a good enough gist for when I come to revise it later. While some translators may prefer to read the whole text first, I find this method is more useful for me, as I have a fairly bad short-term memory. Providing a gist translation means that I better remember what the text is about. At this stage, I also add any new terms to my term base (as I go) and have a pen and paper handy to note down any specific terminology. This is useful with words that may have several different possible translations; by jotting down the one I am using for this particular text, I am not confused by the different entries in my term base and it keeps my translation consistent. I also note down (on a Sticky Note [a free Windows App] on my desktop) any queries I have for the client or translation agency I am working with. This includes difficult terminology, inconsistencies and errors in the ST and any style-related questions. If I am using MemoQ, I would also run the pre-translate function, which uses my term base and translation memory (I have a separate one for each client) to provide me with computer generated TTs for some of the segments in my ST.

2) Email the client/agency with my queries

I tend to do this at the end of every working day (or period of time I’m working on that particular translation), rather than waiting until I have finished the entire translation. This ensures that I get the responses I need as quickly as possible and keeps me on target for my deadline.

3) Re-read my translation

Once I have finished the entire first draft of the translation, I re-read it and make changes as I go. This includes changing anything based on what the client/agency said re: my queries, making sure that all the formatting is correct (in MemoQ, this means making sure that all the tags are in the right place!), checking punctuation and spelling and also editing any clunky or unnatural sounding passages. I like to think of this stage as the copy-editing stage, where I really refine the text.

4) Run Quality Assurance (in MemoQ) and Spell Check

No translator is completely infallible and so it is important to run a spell check once you’ve finished. Even if you believe you have proofread the text to within an inch of its life, I guarantee you will still find mistakes. In MemoQ, there is also a function called ‘Quality Assurance’, which checks your TT against the ST to make sure you haven’t missed any tags, added extra spaces at the beginning and end of segments, etc.

5) Send it back!

With all of this completed, it is time to send the translation back. This normally means sending it to an agency, who will then proofread it themselves, although I do occasionally work directly with clients. I also always welcome feedback from my clients once they have received their translation, because this helps me to improve.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little insight into my translation method and, as always, if you have any questions, contact me via my contact page or on social media!

Published by verityroat

Verity Roat BA CANTAB MA TRANSLATION CIOL Career Associate is a UK-based Arabic and French > English translator, Copy-writer, Copy-editor, Transcriber, Role-player & Tutor.

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