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"Modern" demands on translation quality

One of our agency`s regular clients made a comment on a translation we completed for them, and it has not left my mind since. It encapsulated a criteria for judging the quality of a translation which had not occurred to me before.

Филипп К.
02 April, 2015

At our translation agency, just like at any other agency specialised in providing systematic translation services for projects across the range of scale and complexity, we conduct quality control of translations. Without getting into the details of every step of this control process, I can say that feedback from the people ordering those translations is of the utmost importance: what you think of your own work, especially when it contradicts the opinion of the client, is largely irrelevant.

The comment was related to a translation of a set of instructions for a hearing aid manufactured by a Chinese company. The instructions took the form of two illustrations, depicting the device and designating each of its functional parts with labels. You couldn`t get a more typical example of the work of a translator, but as it turns out, the original language the instructions were written in proved to be a stumbling block. I have already written about translating between Chinese and English, and this piece is about the ongoing development of Russian clients` attitudes towards instructions written in English, or translated into English from Chinese, by Chinese speakers.

The client maintained that he had been provided with a machine translation, without realising that to dissect a graphic diagram consisting of 35 phrases and run it through an online translation tool, and then to reimpose the resulting text back onto the image, is a herculean task which a professional translator would never agree to for a fee of only... 450 roubles. Remember, the instructions consisted of no more than two block diagrams.

To give you a concrete example, the hearing aid has a hole in it, which functions as a microphone. On the diagram, it looked like an ordinary hole, and the label read "sound collecting hole". Not finding the terminology in any dictionary, including Multitran and the ubiquitous Google, the translator translated it literally as a "sound collecting hole," instead of guessing that the intended meaning was "microphone", as the client feels he should have. The closest definitions for the given terminology were to do with the diffraction and amplification sound, without any connection to the device in question.

This brings me to the most important "modern" demand on translation quality, which I mentioned in the title. The translator is not simply required to translate a text of Chinese English, with only the English version to refer to: he must also work out what was written in the original Chinese version.

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tags: #Google #translator #machine translation #Chinese #client #terminology #hearing #device


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