5 ways to judge a translation without knowing the source language

  • A good translation observes the basic rules of good writing — no ifs and buts. Some would say these are language-specific, but I think there are universal rules. A wordy or poorly written source text is no excuse.
  • A translation can be either free or literal. The most successful translations, like the Luther, King James or NIV Bibles, are those who reinterpreted (or paraphrased) the source text. The best commercial translations also use paraphrase (word-for-sense) instead of metaphrase (word-for-word). You might remember from college — paraphrasing well is much harder than just copying a text.
  • There are many ways you can be too literal, and it’s no protection against factual inaccuracies, rather the opposite. Why? You can’t rewrite without rethinking — so a loose translation requires the translator to think harder about the text they’re working on.
  1. The translator mistypes a number
  2. The translator forgets to localize (e.g. USD to EUR)
  3. The numbers in the source text don’t work:
  • Our café is open from 2.30 am to 6.30 pm
  • The population grew by 10 percent from 10 million to 13 million
  • Not translatable: The Thermomix did a great job. We really hit a home run with this magic bullet.
  • Translatable: The Thermomix sold very well, because it has many functions.
  • This decision was fraught with problems.
  • The decision took place in the framework of massive problems.
  • Problems were connected to the undertaking of this decision.
  • Generic pronouns like one/you (EN) / man (DE) / on/je (FR): “If one turns the key, the car starts.”
  • Passive suggestions: “The vehicle starts, if they key is turned.” instead of “Turn they key to start the car.”
  • Dogs are kept in many households. Our four-legged companions fulfill many social functions. Hence man’s best friend is indispensable.
  • The economic, commercial and financial implications are substantial
  • In doing so, while literally thinking whether to actually say what I was going to say… (Unless this is “literally” intended as a joke…)



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Translation, localization, multilingual content, technical communication