Sorry for the delay…

Finally, here comes the second in the Horrors of Proofreading series: Top 10 into English translation errors. Some will need more extensive explanation (phew – number 10!), others are a lot more self-explanatory. As for the delay? Put simply, I needed a bit of time to pluck up the courage!

It is a nightmare to cut this post down to only ten. I know I will be cutting out some major blunders, but perhaps this will merely leave more room for other bloggers to fill in the gaps. As before: do let me know if you write your own post on the topic so I can add a link at the bottom.

Let’s get started…

1. When translating, word order matters.

The example above is a classic Germglish sentence structure. The main trouble here is that it’s not technically wrong – I mean, you can say it like that – it’s just it does not really flow as well as it should. In German source texts, you find a lot of sentences structured like that. In English translations, such word order can become distracting. It is better to turn things around, in most cases. <- See my point? Yucky English. You get similar issues with adverbs, verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, subjects, objects and so on all being in the wrong place in translations from all languages. Each combination seems to have its particular quirks.

Hint: Become familiar with the quirks, the things to look out for in your combination. Remember that some flexibility is allowed and even preferred – but too many broken clauses or syntax errors can become an unwelcome distraction.

2. „¿¿Punctuation problem’s??“

This one you see quite often, particularly in cases where someone has forgotten to switch the language over to English. If you don’t switch these things over you can get some bizarre punctuation happening through none of your own fault. Further, punctuation rules can vary a lot even between ostensibly similar languages. For example, in English we might write “i.e.” and the more savvy Germans might write remember that “d. h.” correctly has a space in it and think the same applies in English. It doesn’t. Similarly, the Dutch may assume that we, too, require an apostrophe to indicate any plural’s…

Hint: There’s no shame in googling the grammatical points, it’s what we all do. Regarding the other problems that may result from the wrong input language, remember that you can switch the input language via your operating system as well as through your word processing software (they may work independently of one another so watch out). You can also manually select text and mark it as the desired language.

3. 100.000.100,00 USD

Numbers. This drives me a bit mad. It especially used to drive me mad in the days when I attempted to work with Trados. Numbers were excluded from the word count, yet my clients would expect me to localise all the numbers to the proper format for free. I eventually wised up to that one. Worse, however, is when translators forget to localise these digits… and sometimes in important places, like their own CVs or websites. In cases of doubt – like financial reports for international perusal and the tables are unlocalised – you can either choose one or the other, or the international standard: 100 000 000.00 USD (although usually hopefully you won’t need the rather messy looking decimal).

A related error that really would have its own point were I not restricting myself to the top ten, would be the scarily frequent confusion between million, billion and trillion, especially when abbreviated in the source. Hello lawsuit!

Hint: Just learn it and check for it. And don’t use crappy CAT tools that don’t let you edit numbers or exclude them from the word count.

4. An Abk. may still need translating…

Not all abbreviations need translating but a lot most certainly do. It’s quite disappointing when I find a translation with abbreviations and acronyms for which English terms exist left untranslated. Really, we all should be aware of common abbreviations in our source language. If you’re not, get up to speed. There are books and dictionaries available. For the less common, don’t skip on the research: look it up and ask the client if you are still not sure. It may indeed be the case that you do not need to translate it, but you won’t know until you’ve checked out the meaning.

Hint: Find some relevant resources on abbreviations in your source language. Ask colleagues. Ask the client. Finally, remember – you’re a translator. Do your job and don’t leave terms you were too lazy to translate untranslated in the hope nobody will notice. Someone will!

5. I have the snout full

Idioms. That would be a direct translation of, “Ich habe die Schnauze voll”, meaning, “I’m fed up” or similar. Most translators pick up the really obvious ones, but then there are other idioms like the above, which may be comprehensible, just not very usual or proper English.

Hint: There are some great resources available online for this sort of challenge, but again, they’ll vary depending on your source language. It’s sometimes possible to get so stuck into the source that we forget what sounds natural, so it may be an idea to consult (other) monolingual native speakers of your target language. Failing all else, you can post a terminology question. It’s always fun to post a question like this that may not have a strictly correct answer on KudoZ or other terminology forums and watch colleagues tear each other to shreds. Popcorn at the ready!

6. Consistency, consistency, consistency

There are often a variety of ways to translate a given term. You may also decide to change your mind on which is your preferred term half-way through the translation. It’s something clients look out for and check up on, so it is important to have strategies in place to ensure consistency.

Hint: There are as many ways to ensure consistency as there are ways of translating the German word “doch” into English. You can use built-in features in your CAT tool, a glossary, concordance searches, a separate glossary, creation and checking against a “banned words” list”, and many more methods besides. This is a major issue in the industry and something there are indubitably entire articles and webinar sessions dedicated to, written and presented by far better experts than me. Everyone has their personal preferred strategies. Of course, another preferred strategy is simply to specialise, so a lot of those terms end up in your mind and you don’t need to refer to some scribbled piece of paper or glossary to start with.

7. The researcher: he is clever, so it must be his pronoun

There is a school of thought that the pronoun in “The researcher must hand in his proposal by the 1st.” must always be translated as “he”. Well, you can do this. You can also expect your daughter to give up her dream of academia. You can also get torn apart by those who believe in gender equality. There is an informative post on Oxford Dictionaries Online where you’ll find the approach I advocate: use “he or she” if you must, but if able, use “they”. We can turn things into the passive, too. Such ideas were discussed recently on KudoZ.

Why advocate “they”? As the Oxford Dictionaries article states, “they” can also be used for an singular unknown party. Admittedly, “he or she” sounds more usual and can/must be used if the client insists on it.

Some feminists advocate “she”. I advocate the absence of gender for reasons no less political. I do not advocate “she” because I am not a “feminist”, at least, not at the exclusion of the rights of others. For the same reason, I advocate the use of “they” because “he or she” preserves the significance of gender, prompting questions like “Why not she or he?” or “Doesn’t ‘or’ add confusion?”. It also forces those without a rigid gender identity to make a mental choice, if not an actual one. Yes, I am a CIS-female (female in mind, law and biology), but I feel for those for whom the situation is not so clear-cut.

Hint: In case the above arguments were not clear enough: the function of he was only ever grammatical and was never used to define the person’s gender in the first place. Words can be used to oppress just as much as they can to liberate.

8. Acting up

I expect this one annoys the lawyers even more than it does me. Sometimes an act will already have a preferred, official translation. If so, use it (unless diabolical). If it doesn’t, try to see how others have translated it and choose the one you think is best (unless diabolical). If everything is diabolical, do it yourself. However, in at least cases two and three and often in case one, you should also include the name of the original act/legislation/code and/or its official abbreviation in brackets after it is referred to, e.g. “English Translation (Source)”. You can do this either throughout or at the first instance only, if not otherwise included in an appendix. I would usually only include it at the first instance, and perhaps again if there is a significant gap between that and where it next appears. The style you choose is not incredibly important as long as both are on there, but your client will most likely have a preference.

The final step, however, is one many seem to miss: adding the country to which it refers. In some cases, the country may be clearly identifiable, in other cases less so. In such cases you may want to say “The German Income Tax Act”, for example, since “Income Tax Act” on its own could refer to a number of countries.

Hint: The reader wants to be able to reference the act, code or directive themselves, if necessary.

9. False friends

This is something we get taught right when we start learning a language, unfortunately the list can never be exhaustive enough. I read a particularly funny example in the Examiners’ Report for the DipTrans where the word “boren” in a Dutch to English translation (drilling, as it was in the context of drilling into a wall) had been translated as “boring”! Similarly, the German word “eventuell” (maybe) is often translated as “eventually”.

Expanding a little, I think this also includes the overuse of certain words or phrases that are more commonly used in the source language. Sometimes they are better (shock, horror!) left out or translated as an alteration in tone without a representative word in the translation. For example, German to English translations sometimes overuse the word “already” because the Germans use the word “schon” a lot.

Hint: If you’re not spotting these sorts of errors, try proofreading the work of a colleague or leaving a couple of days or more before proofreading your own work. You’ll soon see the common mistakes and what you should look out for.

10. Criss-crossing the Atlantic

The most frustrating and also the most common of all into English errors. The Brits have been swamped with American English media and British English seems to have gotten lost. This applies to the differences in grammar and spelling, both well-documented in plenty of places already, making this a larger, all-encompassing problem. Issues include: 8 am (US) vs. 8 a.m. (UK), Mrs. (US) vs. Mrs (UK), high quality translation (US) vs. high-quality translation (UK), check (US) vs. cheque (UK), airplane (US) vs. aeroplane (UK) and coworker (US) vs. co-worker (or colleague) (UK). British English does not always make more sense! But, we are language professionals and my clients should receive a consistent translation in the language (and variant) requested

If your text is for an international audience you should aim for international compatibility. In such cases, I still write in my native British English, but I take care to avoid terms like “knackered” if I can equally say “exhausted”. I similarly expect Americans to “relax” rather than “kick back”. Whilste common usage should still prevail, cross-Atlantic compatibility is still a worthy goal, don’t you think? An American can tolerate the odd British “s” where they would put a “z” or perhaps the odd “different to” rather than “different from”, but the following may help avoid the meaning getting lost in translation:

a) Avoid region-specific vocabulary (or any region-specific frame of reference, for that matter).

b) Avoid alienating speakers of the other variant without good purpose, i.e. if a spelling is acceptable and not jarring in both the UK and US English, then go with that rather than the alternative. I do not write “spelt” when I can write “spelled”, nor do I write “focussed” when I can write “focused”.

c) Do follow the norms of your variant of English! I write “localisation” with an “S”, since to me, a British English translator who offers localiZation services has lost the very meaning of that term. Yes, localiZation may be acceptable in many a British English dictionary and spellchecker. It was even once preferred by the Oxford University Press (but not any longer). However, it is not common usage and will unsteady many Brits who read it. Think of it as the written equivalent of turning on the TV in the UK to find your BBC News presented by in a Texan drawl. It’s unexpected, unfamiliar, foreign and, yes, untrusted. Speak to your readers as they expect to be spoken to and they’ll inevitably more willing to listen. It is a given that the various British style guides recommend -ise, but more interesting is the content of the EU style guide – which recommends -ise, too, as a simpler option than working out where an -ize is NEVER permitted in British English. Similarly, be aware of the differences in how we use compound adjectives (pet peeve: remember to hyphenate in British English!) and other key markers.

d) Avoid the issue entirely in your English copy if you are fully aware it will be viewed by readers from across the globe. For example, don’t use any of those words or spellings mentioned above in a prominent place such as your motto or slogan if you can avoid it. If your identity as Brits or Americans is not an issue, fine, but if you are selling yourselves as, for example, a multi-national LSP and you only have one English website (bad idea to start with), then at least don’t tell your clients to “Kick back while we localize your website”, or “Feeling knackered? We’ll translate whilst you wait”. Both such examples contain one or two obvious “tells” that are better avoided. Another (albeit not catchy, that’s your job!) option such as “Relax while we translate your website” would be more suitable in this respect.

Hint: Take a look at the Wikipedia style style guide regarding national varieties of English or the Wikipedia page on differences between British and American English. Of course, Wikipedia is by no means an authoritative, academic reference, but these are the tips they use to manage multiple variants of English on one of the largest and most-visited websites in the world, making it accessible and comprehensible to all. That’s a lofty goal I think we translators can only applaud.

That was it this time.
As you can imagine, it was nearly impossible to keep this task limited to just ten!
Let me know what else you would have included in the comments below – or write your own post and let me know, so I can link to it!