Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Translations, Translators - A Predicament

I certainly don't want to attack translators in this post. There are an awful lot of excellent translators doing excellent work out there. But so often, you will read a text, and notice immediately that it is "translated", and awkwardly at that. I just looked at the web page of quite an inovative advertising agency in Germany. Except their English version website was appalling. Tooth-grindingly awful . Here is an agency with a innovative concept, obviously keen on self-promotion and attracting new clients. So why have such an embarrassing English blurb?

The answer of course is: They don't know it's bad. They had it translated in good faith (or they did it themselves. "Sonja, du warst doch 6 Monate in London"...) "Sounds okay, they'll think when confronted with the English version. Sounds good, yeah. Put it in." And whilst this is no way of going about, there is also not much you can do about it if you're not proficient yourself.

You're in the hands of your translator who by dint of certificates and clients served past and present, you have to trust. And that is the problem. Certificates gained long ago, esp. the much admired "Vereidigter Übersetzer"-tag will be of little value when, say, you need an innovative marketing concept translated into a foreign language.

Sadly, tranlators aren't very well paid, and will therefore never turn down an assignment they don't quite feel up to. Doggedly, they will leaf through their dictionaries (equally outdated, and certainly not able to cope with today's online vocabulary!) and hope for the best, i.e. that their client will just take what ever they produce. And unquestioningly use it in their promotional material ...and make a fool of themselves.

That is the predicament - and there's not much you can do about it. Demand better pay for translators, appeal to their ethos... it won't work. The market is disparate, and anybody (with or without certificate) can do their worst.

There simply aren't enough people with excellent language abilities, specialist knowledge, and a feel for good copywriting about.


  1. And even worse - for those who are available, few people are willing to pay what their work is worth.

  2. So very, very true. I've edited translated academic manuscripts and it can be painful. The words are English, the sentence structure is Turkish and there is no attempt made to get the technical terms right. Without a native speaker editing the manuscripts would be rejected by any journal before being seen by any reviewer.

  3. Yes, there are some truly terrible "translators" around, and some who are utterly unbusinesslike in their approach. But some of us keep up to date with language, technology and business matters – I'd like to think you can see the results in our work.

    I wrote a blog post just the other day on "How to be a good translator". Here's the link: http://wp.me/pvG8C-1ps