Translation Services’ Standards
The term “quality” or “professional level” in relation to translation seems to be vague and can mean different things to different people and be prone to misinterpretation. Though professionals may understand it to incorporate aspects like correct lexicon (terminology), syntax (style), register, spelling, fidelity to the original, etc., the public at large e.g. purchasers of translation services would often go by the translators’ marketing skills, e.g. website presentation, etc., which do not necessarily point to translator I.T. skills, let alone translator competence.
Some agencies that pride themselves on providing “quality” translations are frequently not even aware of what they’re providing, as they use flawed criteria for sorting the wheat from the chaff. Though the obvious ones like qualifications and experience are taken into account, so are the more dubious ones, like age and geographical location. In fact none of those determines ultimately translator competence, for the most significant “ingredient” of a good translator is hard to capture. Similarly as for writers, it is a creative streak. A translator is a writer who writes within the constraints of a template created by another writer in another language. A translator’s scope of manoeuvre, i.e. the freedom of choice of linguistic expression is thus determined by the original writer, nevertheless translator’s creative skills are required to put the original into the correct for the target language syntax and make the impact on the new readership identical to the one exerted on the original one. No amount of training can quite make up for that hard-to-detect inborn quality required for that task, which includes memory retrieval skills and ability of abstract thinking. The amount of creativity required would vary from lesser (e.g. for technical translations) to greater, (e.g. for translating poetry), but it is indispensable in order to produce an acceptable standard of translations. That’s why the statement “born rather than made” which applies to writers, should equally apply to translators.
In localised economies, the best determinant of “quality” would be a provider’s reputation established over the years, but this is not the case in our global world. Although one would think the number of achievements points to a good translator, they are hard to evaluate when in languages of lesser diffusion. The prolific output may point to luck or better opportunities a translator has had rather than his/her real competence. And the budding talent would be excluded to everybody’s disadvantage, if assessments were based solely on that criterion. The difficulty in identifying good translator skills is the underlying cause for the high volume of poor translations that have flooded the Polish market for nearly the last two decades, giving rise to the widespread phenomenon of Polglish – an unintelligible hybrid of Polish and English. It includes English terms with Polish suffixes (with an occasional sprinkling of “faux amis”) bound together by the English syntax.
That is why it is essential to define translation quality by aspects like: “non-visibility of source language in a target language text” or “correct word usage and style of the target language” in order to avoid misunderstanding and facilitate self-assessment of potential translation service providers.
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