Translators and proofreading: a love/hate relationship

Recently, the Colorado Translators Association held a great workshop with local editor and editing instructor Alice Levine. This session was really enlightening in a number of ways; Alice is a lively and engaging presenter and she seemed to enjoy speaking to a group of fellow “word geeks,” and it also made me realize that translators and proofreading have a complex relationship that isn’t easily resolved in the conditions under which most of us work.

Alice talked a bit about “the proofreading mindset,” and how it’s important to get into the right frame of mind when you’re proofreading; right here, I realized why proofreading is one of the aspects of translation that I really have to work on. If I’m going to yoga three times a week, my mind is more in the mood to proofread; otherwise (and here I mean most of the time), I’m one of those people who naturally reads too fast, talks too fast, etc. and I think that many other translators fall into this category as well. At the same time, I, along with probably most other translators, have a very low error tolerance when it comes to the written word. A couple of days ago I was bothered for an inordinate amount of time over the fact that when taking my daughter to swimming lessons, I had to sign a paper saying, among other things, that she would not wear a swimsuit equipped with “flotation devises.” So, it’s a tightrope that we as translators walk; we want our own work to be error-free, we’re intensely bothered by errors in other people’s work, yet most of us don’t or can’t do what it takes to produce perfect work.

To start out with, Alice advised our group that it’s almost impossible to proofread well if you proofread on your computer screen, proofread your own work, proofread when you’re tired, or proofread something without allowing a break of at least several hours between when you write/translate it and when you proofread it. Right there, you can see a variety of stumbling blocks that are just the nature of our jobs as translators. Often, printing hard copies of the documents we work on isn’t practical because of length, or because we want to keep the translation in a translation environment tool until after it’s been proofed. The reality of most of our specializations is that deadlines are tight; there often isn’t time for a proofreader to go over the document and send it back to the translator for approval. Because of these tight deadlines, there is often barely enough time to finish a quality translation, much less allow a few hours’ break before going back and proofing it two or three times.

At the risk of sounding like it’s all gloom and doom, Alice’s workshop definitely helped me come up with some techniques that I feel are realistic for myself and for other translators who work under deadline and who proofread on the computer screen. First, I think it’s absolutely necessary to edit the target file against the source file once, then just read the target file on its own. When I do this, it amazes me how many errors I catch when I’m looking just at the target file. Alice emphasized the importance of realizing the limitations of the spell-checker, and she advised doing a search for homonyms such as too/to, their/they’re, etc., which I think is also doable. Along those lines, whenever I’m working on a translation where I find myself confusing two terms that are similar (i.e. loan/credit, contract/agreement, agent/representative etc.), I do a search for just those words so that I can individually compare each word in the target document to the corresponding word in the source document.

Part of this goes back to my previous post on being paid by the word versus by the hour, or maybe this just relates to rates in general. In some sense, I think that being paid by the word discourages careful proofreading, because every time you go back over a word, you’re effectively decreasing your hourly rate, whereas if you’re paid by the hour, you’re essentially rewarded for doing two, three or more very careful revisions of a document. In essence, this is what I think is at work in some environments such as high-level governmental and international organizations where translators may be expected to translate as few as 1,500 words a day because of the unending emphasis on quality. For those of us who work largely with the private sector, the speed versus quality equation is one that requires careful balancing. Alice’s workshop was a really enlightening chance to reflect on how all of these factors affect translators’ work and how we can improve quality within the parameters of our clients’ needs.

5 Responses to “Translators and proofreading: a love/hate relationship”
  1. Eve April 4, 2008
  2. Simac April 6, 2008
  3. Jane April 6, 2008
  4. Andy April 9, 2008
  5. transubstantiation May 10, 2008

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