Translator Evaluation

The problem of evaluating translations into minor languages


The problem of a client not being able to verify the quality of translation presents a greater problem with minor languages, spoken hardly by anybody but the natives. This is not only a problem for clients, but also for the whole translation community, as clients’ inability to evaluate translator services makes it easy for anybody, including impostors, to get on the bandwagon of opportunity and remain there undetected, possibly forever. Third parties’ opinions are not always reliable and can be biased, thus keeping a client in the dark. Therefore the translation community suffers from loss of reputation as well as loss of business, as their ranks become swollen and diluted by incompetent translators. The phenomenon produces the slow deterioration of language, as the use of incorrect lexicon and syntax gets emulated by others and becomes the established norm. This is most evident in the area of I.T., typically translated by I.T. experts, with little contribution from the linguists. Those translations are saturated with an unintelligible jargon, clumsy neologisms and lack of adherence to the Polish grammar rules. That’s why to the “Polish only” speakers they seem unintelligible, if not intimidating and create a barrier rather than facilitate comprehension. In the pursuit of money, linguistic standards suffer a blow.

The opening up to globalisation of East European markets has created an increased demand for translations from English and other major languages, giving rise to unprecedented numbers of people becoming translators. Previously isolated from the West, stagnant economies suddenly blossomed, giving their peoples a chance to make money abroad without even having to leave their own homes. But do they all have a vocation for it? Over time you can get some idea from the online discussion forums, though you have to understand Polish.

This does not answer the question of how to tell a good translator. The agencies are not in a better position to solve this problem, as without much insight into the foreign qualifications systems and having to rely on third parties to evaluate translation standards, their systems cannot be but flawed. Well applied marketing does not testify to translator competence, but rather to their marketing/I.T. skills. Translators should be first and foremost good writers. For their task is to produce a new copy in another language. Those hidden qualities, like an individual’s natural gift, creativity, experience, integrity play a major part, rather than the misleading slogans and pre-paid subscriptions which offer enhanced visibility on many websites.

To conclude : translator evaluation should be based mainly on competence rather than any other factors, e.g. marketing, catch phrases, website visibility, rates, turnaround time, age or even the claimed qualifications. This is easier said than done, however. How do you assess translator competence if you don’t speak the relevant languages? In the past when a translation provider met face to face with their client, the initial judgement could be based on the first impression e.g. appearance, the way of expression etc., pretty much the way employers assess potential employees at interviews. But nowadays the remote and anonymous internet encounters leave one is with very little to go by. The money some translators invest into marketing, gives them an edge over others, but is it a proof of their translating competence? Someone with a degree may impress more, but is that degree in the linguistic field and if so, which institution is it from? Some degrees in Poland were obtainable on the basis of criteria different from competence. Corruption and nepotism were rife under communism, affecting all areas of life. The University admission point system favoured those from working class background over those who showed real potential. If corruption does not play the same part nowadays, it has not disappeared entirely and new opportunities of obtaining degrees have emerged. This is just to show how a lack of insight into a country’s educational system can distort the evaluators’ decision process. That’s why the market is flooded with sub-standard translations and the phenomenon of Polglish, the clumsy hybrid of Polish and English shows no signs of abating.

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