Three Myths about Who Should Edit Your Translation

(The following originally appeared on The Savvy Newcomer blog, https://atasavvynewcomer.org.)

Some translation projects involve a lone translator, while others allow the translator to choose an editor. My own experience comes from working for direct clients, where I almost always choose an editor to work closely on a translation with me, or we switch roles and I’m the one who edits my colleague’s translation. Even if you don’t work for direct clients, it’s useful to be prepared to find the right collaborator when the time comes.

Some agencies will pay you a rate that includes both translation and editing so you can hire your own editor. Although not all that common, this is not unheard of, so it’s good to be prepared.

Reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues could also come in handy when choosing a practice partner. If you’re a beginner looking to hone your skills, it can be helpful to find a colleague to give you feedback.1

To really master the art of finding the right editor for each project, you’ll need to keep an open mind and break free from some common misconceptions you may have inherited from the way translators usually work with translation agencies.

Myth 1: Both the Translator and Editor Must Be Native Speakers of the Target Language

Many in the translation industry believe that they should only translate into their native language. Others assert that they are competent to translate in both directions. Whatever one’s position on this debate, it seems to be predicated on the paradigm of working alone.

However, it’s only natural that a translator will excel when paired with an editor with complementary strengths and weaknesses. Sure, there are some projects where it makes sense to have two native speakers of the target language. But if you carefully consider each project, I believe you’ll find there are some instances when you would be better off pairing a native speaker of the source language and a native speaker of the target language.

I’m not saying that any old native speaker of the source language will do. I’m referring to someone who masters their source language (the project’s target language) at a high level. It’s commonly assumed that native speakers of the source language will stick close to the source and produce a translation that is not well adapted to the target language. However, I’ve found that the opposite can be true.

In fact, I’ve found that translations that stick close to the source are more likely to come from translators who are native speakers of the target language who are unable to fully comprehend the source. This sometimes leads them to translate word for word out of fear of getting the meaning wrong. On the other hand, native speakers of the source language tend to be well aware of the deeper meaning behind the source text and of subtleties that are difficult to translate. This allows them to explain the meaning and make pertinent suggestions to their colleague who is a native speaker of the target language.

I’ve also noticed that pairing a translator living in the target-language country with a translator in the source-language country can be of merit. In a certain sense, this bears similarities to the “native of source” and “native of target” pairing, as one colleague is more in tune with the source language and the other is more in tune with the target language. For practical reasons, it can also be helpful to have someone on the ground in the source-language country, where more of the demand tends to be. This person can help handle contact with the client in the source language.

Another factor that speaks in favor of working with a native speaker of the source language is when some specific combination of subject-matter expertise, text-type familiarity, and client-specific terminology is required. Sometimes you simply cannot find two native speakers of the target language with the right combination of skills, but adding a native speaker of the source language can be the missing puzzle piece.

Myth 2: The Translator and Editor Should Have Similar Expertise

Sometimes translation projects are categorized in very broad terms, such as technical, medical, legal, financial, or marketing. These are five of the most common specializations, when looking at how translation agencies assign projects and how translators tend to position themselves. According to this logic, you just need to find two legal translators to work on a legal project or two marketing translators to work on a project loosely classified as marketing.

However, the reality is that many projects are far more complex if you dig deeper. A website about a technical product may require both someone with strong expertise related to that particular type of product and someone with a knack for web copy. Although clients may be able to find both these skills in one person, that will not always be the case.

In fact, the search for the right subject matter expertise is exactly the reason I sometimes hire a native speaker of the source language to edit my translations, and also why I recently tried being the native speaker of the source language for the first time.

One example of the former was a project involving human resources (HR) materials, where I teamed up with a native speaker of the source language who had worked in HR prior to becoming a translator. I didn’t know any native speakers of the target language who had worked in HR, and the greatest challenge of this project was making perfect sense of the rules specific to the source-language country.

In the project where I tried getting my feet wet as a native speaker of the source language, a regular client of mine needed a translation in the opposite direction, but I was unable to find a native speaker with expertise in the subject matter. I was able to offer my knowledge of the client’s terminology and preferences along with the required subject matter expertise and called upon a native speaker of the target language to help ensure everything was well formulated and readable.

Myth 3: The Editor Must Have a Background in Translation

It’s also relatively standard that a translator will be asked to edit another translator’s work. However, on some projects I’ve found it effective to work with a copy editor who is not a translator. They are usually especially good at suggesting improvements for flow and style and picking up on any traces of source-language interference in the target-language wording.

I’ve worked quite a lot with an editor trained as a copy editor who is a native speaker of the target language, but who still has a working knowledge of the source language. This person has more of a copy editor’s approach than a translator’s, but would still notice if I accidentally omitted something from the source language.

In other cases, it’s perfectly fine to work with a monolingual copy editor. In these cases, I serve as the link between the source and target to make sure the copy editor doesn’t change the meaning. I’ve even experimented successfully with pairing a translator who is a native speaker of the source language with a monolingual copy editor who is a native speaker of the target language to take it to the extreme.

In addition, there are professionals other than copy editors whom you might want to have review your translation. For example, some cases call for a true subject matter expert, such as a practicing physician or attorney.

The Right Combination of Expertise Benefits Everyone

I hope these reflections have helped clear up some misconceptions and open your mind to new possibilities. Above all, think carefully about each project and keep in mind that the right combination benefits everyone. You’ll learn more from working with someone who has skills that complement your own than with someone who has similar strengths and weaknesses, and the final translation will be more effective and accurate.

Note
  1. Friedman, David. “Hone Your Craft Before You Sell—How I Would Have Practiced as a Newbie in Hindsight,” The ATA Savvy Newcomer, http://bit.ly/Savvy-Friedman.

David Friedman is a Swedish>English translator, copy editor, and copywriter specializing in finance and information technology. He was born and raised in Miami and moved to Sweden in 2007 to study language at Lund University. His translation career began in 2009. He has served on several committees of the Swedish Association of Professional Translators over the years. He is also a member of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee. Contact: david@friedmanstrategiccopy.com.

Business Practices will alternate in this space with “The Entrepreneurial Linguist.” This column is not intended to constitute legal, financial, or other business advice. Each individual or company should make its own independent business decisions and consult its own legal, financial, or other advisors as appropriate. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of ATA or its Board of Directors.

1 Responses to "Three Myths about Who Should Edit Your Translation"

  1. Kirk D Jackson says:

    Excellent points! Thank you for this insightful and well-reasoned article. Cheers ~

Comments are closed.

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