Q&A: What rules should a good translator follow?

Let’s see… Off the top of my head:

  • Don’t translate at all unless you fully and correctly understand the original text, and can write correctly, idiomatically, and well, in the target language.
  • Translate as if the author had written it with a native command of the target language
  • Be faithful to the text—but don’t be afraid to do farteischt und farbessert(‘translated and improved’) if the original writing direly needs it.
  • Mark everything that you’re unsure of, then compile into a list of questions to the client, and don’t sign off on the job until they have resolved those questions to your satisfaction.
  • Master and implement paragraph and character styles in the translation: most clients don’t, but it vastly improves the appearance and management of the text.
  • Add to the original text if it is necessary for the idiomatic expression, or by way of explanation to readers of the target language, if necessary—but mark the addition as a character style of a different colour (which I dub ‘Suggested addition’), so the author can decide whether to keep it, or not:
  • Grey-and-strike-out text of the original if you feel that it detracts from the text or is redundant—and mark it, too, as a character style (which I dub ‘Suggested deletion’), for the author to decide whether to keep, or not:
  • Prepare detailed notes to accompany the translation on submission—explaining what you’ve done, both in terms of the presentation and in terms of content. In my case, I also refer them to explanatory posts that I’ve written on specific issues in my blog, for ease of reference:
  • Last, but not least: Learn to be an editor (including mastering the Track Changes facility in MS Word and other word-processors) in the target language, not just a translator. Machine translation is improving from year to year, and in some cases is already on a par with beginner professional translators. Clients are increasingly availing themselves of these services, and asking for the resulting translation to be copy-edited or polished before publication. Translators who don’t learn to become editors will go out of business.

Good luck!

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