Translation Journal
Back to TJ

Blog of the Translation Journal,
an on-line publication for translators by translators
about translators and translation.


TJ Blog
Welcome to the TJ Blog! Click here for instructions to participate in the discussions of this blog.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Quality seems to be the mantra of every translator. I have never met a translator who wouldn't swear that he or she produces above-average, if not perfect, quality.

So where do all those poor translations we've all seen come from?

The fact is that quality is an elusive concept and, while it's easy to label an incorrect or unidiomatic translation of poor quality, excellence is almost invisible.

And it comes at a cost.

One can argue that not every client needs a high level of quality. If there is a market for Chevies and Pintos, in addition to that for Cadillacs and Lincolns, why not a second-tier quality for translations? Because translations are not cars. While either a Chevy or a Cadillac will take you from point A to point B (with more or less comfort), a translation where "Do not look directly into the laser beam" is rendered as "Look directly into the laser beam" may have tragic consequences. An awkward style, a poor (but not incorrect) word choice, or a misspelled word here or there will not affect the usefulness of most translations for the intended purpose, but in advertising or literature (to mention only two examples), style is as important as content.

Which brings us to the main point: Quality does not exist in a vacuum; it depends on the purpose of the translation. While "quick and dirty" translations may be acceptable for some purposes as long as the correct meaning is conveyed, there are cases where only the highest quality will do. And knowledgeable translation buyers know that for that level of quality they must be prepared to pay Cadillac and Rolls-Royce prices.


Blogger Unknown said...

One time I use freelance translators. Bigger part of them use free web translation service like this language translator or others online text translation tools. My question is: How to find good freelance translator?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Gabe Bokor said...

A "translator" who uses free (machine) translation services is NOT a translator. Professional translators are highly educated individuals with many years of experience. Many of them are certified by their professional associations and/or have diplomas in translation from reputable universities. You can find such translators, for example, in the database of the American Translators Association ( and of other professional organizations.

2:25 PM  
Blogger dr_lionheart said...

where can i fine a high quality english to arabic translator.I have used some
common online english to arabic translator like ترجمة. But
still not the quality I am looking for.
and really thanks for the post.

4:05 PM  
Blogger mcew said...

The online language translators are not reliable. If a person (translator) doesn´t have in-depth knowledge of the target language and doesn't catch the incorrect translation - some really embarrassing mistakes can be made.

The translator has a responsibility to research the work for any word or phrase that causes concern before starting and during the translating process. Talking with the client to get a clearer understanding of the terms or phrases is key to providing an accurate translation. Also- if necessary, having the image or the actual item is tremendously useful.

All customers deserve to get accurate translations. Most customers do not have in-house staff that read or understand all the languages that the source text will be translated to so therefore it´s the translator´s responsibility to provide the highest quality work regardless of the fee. Although -even if there is someone in-house that can help -they aren't translators.

I´m a freelance translator-interpreter-proofreader and take my work very seriously.

It´s a constant source of aggravation when I read bilingual labels that have misspelled or incorrect words in the target language - and these are on products from well known companies!! It´s amazing!!

4:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I could not agree more with this post and it reminded me of a site I came across recently and would love to share with you. It’s called and the idea is that translators bid for work in the marketplace, consequently allowing clients to choose the best offer for their translations. Clients can not only base their decision on price but also by looking at the individual translator profiles. Therefore, a client looking for a good quality translation would probably accept a translator that has 20 years of experience and is bidding a high price, but a client not too bothered about quality or looking for a cheaper price will probably accept a translation offer from a bilingual person with little experience in translation, bidding at a low price.

As a client looking for a specific level of quality, I think it can be quite a good website as you can easily compare translator profiles.

I can’t remember what language combinations they do but in response to the previous comment (looking for a translator…), you could check this website out.

It’s also very good to for translators to find work.

Hope it helps you, it has certainly changed my life around.

Chloé Chevalier

9:13 AM  
Blogger John said...

Do not use machine translation for anything complex. Machines don't understand context and results will be laughably bad. There are many translators and translation agencies who will provide excellent translation at a reasonable cost.

4:15 PM  
Blogger translationtrudy2011 said...

For complex analysis machine translation could not be depended upon. in such scenario no alternative to human translation.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear translator,
TAUS has published a new report about the Dynamic Quality of Translation today 'Translation quality evaluation is catching up with the times'
Curious about your opinion

4:54 AM  
Blogger TequilaKid said...

By Carl Stoll

[Translating and the Computer 21. Proceedings… 10-11 November 1999 (London: Aslib)]
Deploying the SAE J2450 Translation Quality Metric in Language Technology Evaluation Projects, by Jörg Schütz, IAI, Martin-Luther-Str. 14, D-66111 Saarbrucken

“The current SAE J2450 metric proposal consists of eight classes ([SAE J2450, 1999]):
1. Wrong term (WT)
2. Omission (OM)
3. Grammatical error related to word structure, agreement and part of speech (GE)
4. Wrong word order (WO)
5. Misspelling (SP)
6. Punctuation error (PE)
7. Superfluous text (SF)
8. Miscellaneous error (ME)”

This list of parameters is grossly defective, because it does not distinguish between two different sorts of quality:
1. Compliance with the rules of the target language, and
2. Accurate reproduction in the target language of the content of the source-language text.

A similar distinction exists among the parameters by which the reliability of scientific theories is measured, i.e.:
1. Internal coherence of the theory, namely that the theory does not contradict itself, is coherent and does not breach known laws of nature; and
2. That statements of fact – i.e. the empirical observations -- relied on are truthful, i.e. there is a match between the underlying facts that the theory seeks to describe and the factual assertions of the theory. This aspect encompasses the statistical treatment of the raw data and similar methodological procedures.

The Society of Automotive Engineers committed a crude blunder by confusing two fundamentally distinct sets of features, namely internal coherence on the one hand and accuracy of reproduction on the other.

This theoretical blunder has engendered the bizarre proposal that I correct a translation without having access to the source text.

The internal coherence and regularity aspects encompass chiefly the following parameters:

3. Grammatical error related to word structure, agreement and part of speech (GE)
4. Wrong word order (WO)
5. Misspelling (SP)
6. Punctuation error (PE)

However, any of these aspects can in principle also refer to the second aspect.

Is “ghost” a misspelling of “goat”? It might be, but to be certain you must check the source text, because “ghost” and “goat” are the correctly spelled names of two different things. In other words, an error might be a 5. Misspelling (SP) or a 1. Wrong term (WT)

The accuracy of reproduction aspect encompasses chiefly the following parameters:

1. Wrong term (WT)
2. Omission (OM)
7. Superfluous text (SF)

Consequently the SAE J2450 metric proposal is deeply flawed. Evidently it was drafted by people with insufficient grounding in linguistics. It is unacceptable as it stands and must be thoroughly reworked.

2:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home