Translation, like any other work, requires discipline and a strong methodology to be done at a high level.
Like anything else in life, translation quality varies from person to person. Translation professionals are human beings, with all their associated failings and strengths, and sometimes we’re very good at a very narrow area of translation work and very bad at everything else.
But I strongly believe that almost all deficiencies can be overcome, in translation as well as life in general, by applying proper methodology. Doing things the right way and training yourself can overcome a great many innate weaknesses.
A good metaphor is running a marathon: You may not have innate athletic ability and you may never break time records, but if you follow a training regimen you can become competent at running marathons. It’s the same with anything else, including translation work: Following the right methodology can improve your work no matter what your natural skill level.
It’s surprising how many translation pros skip what I believe to be some of the most basic principles of effective translation work. When you skip the fundamentals, you get sloppy, and while some of us may have the quickness of mind to compensate with sheer linguistic talent, it makes for more work and longer turn-arounds when you don’t adhere to these basic methods:
1. Read the Original.
Reading the original document completely at least once is absolutely essential. This allows you to dive into the translation with a working understanding of the text. Doing ‘cold’ translations means you’re doing two jobs at once: Comprehending the original (and often revising that comprehension as you go) and then translating the words. It’s inefficient.
2. Work in Your Native Tongue.
There are a few translation pros who think they are so talented they can work in any language, but a quality translation requires you to have the instinctual familiarity of a native language to be truly high-quality.
3. Review and Revise.
Some cocky translators will finish a translation right before the deadline and turn it in. Usually this means it’s riddled with tiny errors – typos, mistaken words, simple mistakes. Taking the time to sleep on it and review and revise before submission adds a day or two to your turn-around, but it’s what professionals do.
The Role of Research
The other issue that comes up when you discuss quality translation is research. Put simply, the best translators do it, and do a lot of it. Just because you can speak both languages does not mean you’re familiar with the subject matter.
While technical translations typically go to translation pros with an appropriate background for the material, regular translations often involve historical events, cultural concepts, and other references with which you’re not familiar. Crafting a truly high-quality translation means understanding not just the core subject matter but all of the asides, references, and allusions as well. And that takes research.
The methodology isn’t the sexiest of subjects, I know, but adherence to a good method is the difference between being a mediocrity and being a professional.