Thursday, 8 November 2012

Quality Control for Translations!

Believe me - I don't need reminding that there are many many gifted, inspired, and devoted translators out there, toiling away at the most tediously written and  badly formatted document. Working long hours for little reward. And I can understand that they feel undervalued and underpaid.

Yet translation as a profession (or freelance activity) is such an open-door activity. Increasingly I notice that people with a lot of time on their hands, people who (for whatever reason) prefer to work from home, either because they're mothers, or because they have a second job) are jumping onto the translator bandwagon. A half-finished certificate, an A-level, an evening class, or whatever will provide the ticket to supplementing your income. A hefty spurt of marketing activity, membership in a trade organisation, a bit of slagging off of the old "machine translation" -which nobody in their right mind would ever use other than to get the gist of a text - and you're sorted.

A recently divorced acquaintance of mine is busy translating the most hard-core pharmaceutical texts. Ans she needs the money, she does this night after night, all night. She translates from English into German without any prior pharmaceutical knowledge. Her German? She can just about make herself understood. I call that highly irresponsible.

My husband's company (a major multi-national) commissions translations into almost any language on a regular basis. Very often those translated texts have to be re-done: Nobody in the target country could even understand them!

Look at almost any tourism website - German, English, French... and read the translations. I checked 20 - 16 of them were not just bad, they were hilarious.

Translators like to connect on Social Media. Which has the added benefit (or disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint) that they occasionally write in their second or third language. It is often not a pleasant spectacle.  A lot of them avoid it all costs, and will always reply in their own language. Others never follow bi-lingual people. They probably know why.

All is not well in the field of translation. And whilst you could say this is true for many areas, this is one I can judge. And I don't like what I so frequently see. There is also a strange conspiracy of silence out there. People will not criticise others for fear of being found out themselves. Yet they know that things are not as they should be.(A tiny bit of self-awareness and realistic judgment of one's own abilities would also be beneficial.)

Unless translators themselves will accept that all is not well in their midst, things are bound to deteriorate further. It is simply not good enough to shut up, and hope your client simply won't notice. Or website users will be too polite or inactive to speak up. Just as in other industry segments, quality control, quality assurance and best practice need to be implemented.

Einfach durchwursteln geht selten gut!


  1. I'm commenting on my own post because the deathly social Media silence when somebody calls for Quality Control is significant in itself. The problem won't go away by just pretending one didn't hear anything. Carrying on regardless will just make the situation worse, and give translators a bad name. But I'm still surprised how spot-on I was with my "conspiracy of silence"...!

  2. There are very few really good translators.

    Writing in a second language is so often a disaster, so an absolute minimum quality requirement would be to translate into your native language only.

    Translators also need excellent writing skills, a strong understanding of the relevant cultures and languages, broad general knowledge and deep specialist expertise - oh and translation skills, experience and qualifications all help!

    Because the profession is unregulated in many countries, it's not surprising that many people who have "picked up" a foreign language will give it a try. Many people in the profession know that this needs to be addressed, and work is being done, but there's a long way to go. Many translations are done by non-professionals - often it's the office secretary who "knows four languages" who will translate the company website.

    Raising awareness of the issue is a good start - so thanks for your post, Margit.

  3. Dear Margit, thank you for the thoughtful and true post. I agree, quality control is important. Moreover, it may be vital in some cases. I think any translator willing to become a real professional in their field thinks about this issue. And I agree, we still have a long way to go, so thanks for your reminder!