Quality. Every customer wants it. Every service provider assures it. But when it comes to translations and editing, what exactly does good quality mean? And how can I provide it?
Text quality is actually very hard to define, so it may help to break it down into concrete criteria.My personal quality criteria are the following:
Accuracy – This of course goes without saying. A good text has no grammar mistakes, repeated or misspelt words, or sentences that don’t make sense.
Message – The text’s most important objective is to convey the writer’s desired message. All texts convey a message, but is it clear? It should be conveyed efficiently, without causing the reader to put in too much effort.
Authenticity – What is the feel of the text? It should flow smoothly and should not be awkward and clumsy. It should avoid phrases and terms that native readers would not use or understand.
Appropriacy – Is the text fit for purpose? Its tone and level of language complexity should be appropriate for the intended readers.
Consistency – Is the text consistent throughout? The same terms should be used to denote the same thing. The reader should not be confused.
Structure – Does sentence length vary? A good text has a natural rhythm, and its ideas flow easily from one to another.
So how do I, as an editor or translator, handle these criteria to assure the client that the text I return to them is of good quality?
Accuracy: The basic (but not only) task of an editor/translator is to eradicate grammatical inaccuracies. This means that my own grammar must be excellent, and I must always be aware of the rules (which can sometimes make reading social media actually physically painful). But being a native speaker alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee this! So I read, discuss grammatical issues with colleagues, and am always eager to attend courses to maintain/update my knowledge of English grammar.
Message: First I have to figure out what the client wants their text to do. Tell a story? Convince? Prove? Sell? Quite often, making this happen involves simplifying things. Sometimes the message is lost in too many words. Sometimes the writer may be trying too hard to sound knowledgeable and lose credibility in the process. I see it as my job to elucidate the message by eliminating any distracting factors. This is one reason track changes often shows a lot of deletion in the texts I edit.
Authenticity: You can have degrees and qualifications coming out of your ears, but you have to have a FEEL for language in order to translate or edit well. I hear when things sound right or wrong. As it is my first language, I have a proper, working, native knowledge of how things are said in English. Although I mainly live my life through Finnish, I keep my authentic English up to date by listening to English via different media and reading various sources and genres, and by keeping in touch with other native speakers. Language changes over time, but luckily, the internet makes it possible to keep up with these changes today even when you don’t live in an English-speaking country. But you have to work at it.
One way of ensuring the authenticity of my own translations, which, no matter how much of a native speaker of English I am is always at risk of containing Finglish, is to get another native speaker to revise it. The added value of this is something I’m still working on getting clients to understand. In no way does peer revision mean that the translator hasn’t done their job properly: it’s the final polish, quality assurance at its best!
Appropriacy: I think about the target readers. Who are they? A marketing text persuading a customer to buy something should sound very different to a doctoral thesis. In the former I would ensure that the tone is simpler, more choppy and light-hearted; in the latter, more serious, academic and complex, containing more advanced vocabulary and sentence structures.
Consistency: A reader gets confused if the same concept is named in three different ways in the same text, or even the same paragraph in some cases. It’s up to me to make sure that terminology is consistent in a text. If it’s not, the text just feels messy and the reader has to work too hard.
Structure: A text with no variation in sentence length is tedious to read, and the reader will lose interest. I make sure long and short sentences alternate. I condense sentences that contain important points. And I make sure that the important issues come at the end of the sentence, something called end focus, which clarifies to the reader what you are emphasizing.
Finally, to keep up my end of the bargain – to provide my client with good quality services – I keep myself and my skills updated. Every year I attend conferences for translators and editors, such as METM (Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting). I work closely with colleagues, asking for their advice and sharing knowledge. Just for fun, my two close colleagues and I sometimes revise chunks of each other’s translations, which is an invaluable way of preventing our skills from becoming rusty and becoming blind to our own habits and mistakes. We also have regular ‘translation slams’, in which we take the same text (often a newspaper article), translate it separately, then compare our versions. Another essential source for keeping on top of things is active involvement in NEaT (Nordic Editors and Translators) and regularly attending their social and training events. I also take part in events organized by Kieliasiantuntijat (Language Experts) and SKTL (Suomen kääntäjien ja tulkkien liitto – Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters), where I learn a great deal through discussions with like-minded language professionals.
So, back to my original question. How can I provide good quality in the texts I translate and edit? By answering my clients’ needs; having a keen eye for accuracy, authenticity and appropriateness; having an ear for what sounds right; maintaining and improving my own language skills; constantly being aware of language trends; not settling for what I already know, and keeping up my desire to do my work well.
They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, so I have to keep my skills moving, as moss is bad for quality.
Altexta offers editing services and translations from Finnish into English. I am a native English-speaker, brought up in Wales by a Finnish mother and Irish father. Thanks to mother’s determination, I’m fluent in Finnish. I have now lived in Finland for almost twenty-five years and have been editing and translating for fourteen. My areas of specialization are work life, occupational health and occupational safety.
I love my job!
In my blog, I hope to give non-native writers of English tips for writing good English, based on the problem areas I most often come across in my editing work.
Altexta tarjoaa kielentarkistus- ja käännöspalveluita. Olen syntyperäinen britti, kasvanut Walesissa, mutta viettänyt lapsuuteni kesät Suomessa, mummolassa. Äitini on suomalainen, isäni irlantilainen. Kiitos äitini sinnikkyyden, olen kaksikielinen. Olen asunut Suomessa melkein 25 vuotta, ja työskennellyt kielentarkistajana ja kääntäjänä 14 vuotta. Erikoisalani ovat työelämään liittyvät tekijät, työterveys ja työturvallisuus.
Blogissani annan suomalaisille neuvoja hyvän englanninkielisen tekstin kirjoittamiseen, käyttäen esimerkkeinä ongelmakohtia, joita eniten kohtaan kielenhuoltotyössäni.