Translation is one of the oldest trades around. Ever since the dawn of civilization, translators were necessary to celebrate trade agreements, broker peace treaties, and overall ensure that we humans do not bludgeon each other to death due to our inability to understand across languages.
What began as an age-old tradition of memorizing messages, evolved into the translation of scripts and is currently aided by software with the help of machine translation, and knowledge management tools such as translation memories and glossaries. But the essence remains the same: getting content from one language to another while retaining its originally intended meaning.
Different translators develop over time their unique approaches and methods to translating. Some like to draft it out, some like to take each stage at a time, and some like to work each sentence to perfection before moving on to the next. Let’s explore a few of these approaches as well as their pros and cons.
One Stage at a Time
Translators that like this approach will typically first read or gloss over the entire text to have an overall idea of what’s going on before they even begin to translate. Once they have a clear understanding of the overall gist of the text, they will proceed to terminology mining. During this process, they will take note of all the terminology that pops out to them as significant, either because they are not sure what it means, or because it seems to be particularly relevant to the subject or brand sensitive. They will then proceed to research these terms, first understanding exactly what they mean, what they allude to, potential translations, and their implications and eventually they will decide on the most appropriate translation for each of these key terms.
Having their terminology established (preferably uploaded as a glossary onto their CAT tool), they will then proceed to their draft translation. They will work with a pre-translated (populated with translation memory and/or machine translation feeds) or with a blank slate. Once their draft is concluded they will go back and carefully re-read everything, proofreading for errors, things that sound funny, and other textual elements that are worthy of their attention. Once they are done with that, they will proceed with their final draft and be ready for delivery.
I am a big fan of this approach. Writing in my opinion requires context to perfect meaning. This approach maximizes how contextualized the translator is before digging into the actual translation process. It’s happened to me before that I reach a key piece of information further into a translation that will require me to revisit entirely how I had been translating up until that point.
The challenge is that this approach may take longer and necessarily maximize productivity from words per hour perspective. But it’s trustworthy and produces reliable results.
All Over the Place
As the name suggests, this approach is chaotic. Translators that use this technique will typically dive right into the translation itself and then change tools and approaches as needed. They may stumble onto a term that requires in-depth analysis, and devote a few minutes to that term only to then return to the translation process. They may decide to read on a paragraph or to, and then return to where they were. They may go back after a few paragraphs for more in-depth editing and then go back to where they were.
This is a fluid approach that works well for people who have a more intuitive approach over those who are more methodological. It can be productive, especially for those who can get into a state of flow.
The challenge with this approach is that because it relies heavily on intuition and establishing a rhythm that can make sense, at its peak it an effective and productive while it can become maddening at its worst.
One Segment at a Time
Some translators like to treat each sentence as a unit that requires full resolution before commitment and moving on to the next sentence. They will conduct all of the steps identified above such as terminological research, proofreading, and translation in that particular sentence, and only move on to the next once they have established they are satisfied with the outcome of that particular sentence.
This approach borrows from the very structure provided by CAT tools with each term requiring formal confirmation before writing onto the translation memory. It is particularly useful for time management as translators know exactly how far they have progressed in absolute terms as there are no additional stages that require allocating time for completion.
The challenge with this approach is that it’s often non-realistic that you will be able to fully resolve a sentence without going back and forth between sentences. It can also lead you to spend a disproportionate amount of time in a given sentence because you can’t draft it out.
There are many other potential approaches and translation techniques that I have seen. These are a few that I have had firsthand experience with over the years. In my opinion, different kinds of texts and situations are more or less conducive to these different types of approaches.
Each technique is like a special tool and as you master the craft of translating, you will know which tool is best suited for each kind of need. What matters, in the end, is one’s ability to be happy with the results produced compared to the time spent and also considering the overall satisfaction with the methodology. It’s about finding the one that most feels right for your way of thinking and writing and in my opinion there is no best de-facto approach. It’s learning to perfect your own style over the years.