How to review a translation

As translators, the first draft of our translation is only a starting point. We need to verify the quality of our work before we send it off for publication. The following list is not comprehensive, but it will help us find most of the problems we have to solve.

Check for completeness

Go through every unit of meaning and make sure it was translated. We translate meaning, not words—and skipping easy words like “no” completely changes the meaning!

Check for accuracy

Check the nuance of the source. Words are usually carefully chosen to give the reader a specific impression. We see this often in articles with political content. Person First language, as illustrated below, is expected more and more often.

Person-First Term Outdated Term
Person with diabetes Diabetic
Neurodiverse person Autistic person
Adults in custody Incarcerated people
They He/she
Undocumented immigrant Illegal alien
Foreigner Alien

Tips to ward off potential problems with completeness and accuracy checks

It is easy to lose our place. To solve that, we can use several approaches.

  • When you first start a review, change the font and the font size for the whole translated text. Change the font back to the desired font as you go. This does two things: It helps you keep your place, and it helps you find strange paragraph breaks that will cause problems later in the publication process. Another option is to highlight the whole document and unhighlight it as you review.
  • Use the Read Aloud feature in Word. Have Word read one document while you check the other one. This is my favorite way to find wrong numbers in official documents and unnatural constructions!
  • Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools help us keep our place, but we also need to check the document in its target format before releasing it. Things that we did not notice in the earlier processes might show up here.

Check for readability

Read the text as an editor. Anything that makes you stumble should go. Every time you make a change, check the source to verify that the previous checks (accuracy, nuance, precision) are still good.

Problem with this check

Of course you will think it is readable—after all, you wrote it! To overcome this, imagine a reader and put yourself in their place. Since they do not have context, will this be clear to them? Can they understand it after a cursory reading?

Don’t be tempted to repeat grammatical or spelling mistakes from the source text

Replicating mistakes makes your translation a parody, and we are not there to mimic the text. We also run the risk of introduce new mistakes. We are there to translate the message, not the words. For example, an interpreter is not expected to cry when the speaker cries! That is mimicking and goes too far.

Watch for these common mistakes

Excessive use of the word “that.”

Punctuation. Each language has its own punctuation conventions and they should be used accordingly.

English Spanish
“That house is nice,” he said. “Esa casa es linda”, dijo.
Please call my supervisor ─ Peter Brown ─ on Tuesday. Por favor llame a mi supervisor, Peter Brown, el martes.
“What did you tell me, Peter?”

“That it is late, Maria.”

─José, ¿qué me dijiste?

─Que es tarde, María.

Capitalization. Make sure caps are used per target language conventions. One of the most common translation errors is to use capitalization to match the source text.

Consistency in terminology. In some languages, the use of synonyms is preferred to avoid boredom. However, technical terms and key terms should be translated with consistency.

Spelling. Never send something off without running a final spell check! However, the spell check won’t catch everything.

Ask yourself these questions:

Did you find the best way to say something at the very end of the document? Find where else you should modify the same thing to match. This is common.

Did you translate a term with one meaning, but later in the document you see that it is used in a different way? Go back and fix it all the way through the document.

Check for consistency

There are tools to check consistency, which help a lot with spellings of brands, etc.

Perfect It does this very well, and for this particular use, you can use it in any language.

Word Rake will flag phrases that are extra wordy and suggest replacements.

Warning: These tools are not created for us to accept every change they suggest! They are just consistency checkers, and we need to accept or reject each change on its own merits.

One trick for name consistency is to type a short abbreviation or acronym and the use Find and Replace at the end. For example, for Albuterol you could type BNA and then replace all BNA to Albuterol at the end. For names that are tricky to spell, use unique initials to avoid misspelling.

When you do this, make a table in a separate document so you can do the find and replace at the end. This style guide table could also be at the very start of the translated document, and you delete each thing as you check it.

Make sure you follow the brief!

  • If you were told the final translation should be no more than 5500 words, and you are at 7000, find ways to reduce wordiness and take the time to express things more concisely.
  • If it is a PPT file, make sure you are able to fit the text in the slide with a readable font!

Take extra care with slides and spreadsheets

Excel and PPT have challenges because they are not designed for editing. CAT tools handle these files well, but you may still need to make adjustments in the final file. If so, agree ahead of time on charging for that bit of desktop publishing.

PPT: Take the presentation, view it in outline mode, and copy the whole outline into a Word document. That allows you to translate from there, then dump it back in. Of course, you can let them adjust the presentation, or charge for the extra desktop publishing time. Agree on who does what before you start!

Excel: Copy the doc into a Word table, translate it, and send it back to Excel. If you are adjusting for space, make sure you add that to your fee.

Watch out for hidden text

Graphics can sometimes cover your text. Pick up the graphic, move it to the side, and edit. You are still responsible for the text that is hidden under the graphic!

There can also be text hidden in tables or text boxes. Always check the final version of the translation to make sure you translated everything!

Ask what to do with text in images. Often, this is the text we miss. I often create a table with the source-target text and ask the requester to make the changes to the graphic. I typically place it right next to the graphic and put a comment in the text. The comment could say: “Check this graphic. It has English text. See translation of text below.”

You can also do a graphic overlay of the text over the image…

Where it says… The translation is…
Acceptable box Caja aceptable
Etc.

Never forget the why

A quality translation reduces liability risk for the client, helps them communicate clearly and shows respect to the target audience. The details listed in this document help us consistently meet the goal of our clients, as they reach out to communities that speak a different language. This applies to all texts. I often translate forms, press releases, healthcare instructions, evidence for court, and training manuals, and these principles apply to all the translations we produce. For best practices, I always work with a reviewer and together we go through our work looking for these issues. This is one of the key reasons to work with an equally qualified colleague as an editor.

Recommended resources:
Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Boston: Macmillan Learning, 2020
Eby, Helen. Principios de redacción. Self-published, available for free download from Spanish Editors Association. 2020
Gaucha Translations work order: This document has a good list of issues we must consider in translation, and it is a way to bring all of them to the table with the client before we start.

Public Review of Published Reports

How are research papers reviewed in other fields, and how can we apply those practices to the interpreting and translation field?

As we observe the publicity surrounding vaccination efforts, we notice that developers are called to follow established procedures in their research. These research procedures are documented and can be reviewed by others. Their reports are checked for conflicts of interest. This is a matter of public interest since 2016, when the public became aware that the studies promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day had been funded by the cereal companies, as this Vox article points out. Today, transparency is developed to the point that the World Health Organization has a template for reporting the conflict of interest of all contributors to its papers. See page 92 of this document on physical activity. What do we require in the interpreting and translation field?

I will base many of my comments on two books:

  • The General Theory of the Translation Company, by Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson, © 2017, nimdzi.com
  • Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies, by Edgar Moros, © 2011, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing

When a new idea is presented in professional and scientific fields, it typically goes through a process of public discussion and debate, and over a period of time the concept is improved on or discarded.

In the translation and interpreting field, we have a different situation. Beninatto provides this list of participants. The Language Service Providers act as intermediaries:

  • Contract Language Professionals (CLP)
  • Language Service Providers (from small to large)
    • Local In-Country Single Language Service Provider
    • Regional Multiple Language Services Provider
    • Multiple Language Services Provider
    • Massive Multiple Language Service Provider

The CLPs are the independent contractors, the individuals who provide independent services. According to Beninatto, they are “the backbone of the industry,” and include interpreters and translators. Beninatto considers that it is increasingly rare to see CLPs working directly for Language Service Buyers (the people who order the translated documents). Because of the predominance of intermediaries, the practitioners are not generally able to explain their work to the people who need the work product itself.

I have developed another classification of translation and interpreting services providers based on my personal observation and standard business terminology.

Individual providers: They render all their services personally through direct contracts or as a subcontractor of one or more contractors (prime contractors).

Solopreneurs: Here they would be prime contractors, who hire subcontractors to provide services to complete the package the client needs such as providing a booth, editing services, desktop publishing, etc.

Small language service company or boutique language company. They generally specialize in a particular field and work in up to five languages. The owner renders some services directly in the languages for which they are personally qualified, and subcontracts other services to individual providers.

Larger language service company (more than 5 languages). The person who runs this company has less time to interpret and has to spend more time finding work for other interpreters and interfacing with clients.

The provider who engages directly with the translation services buyer becomes the prime contractor, and if the prime builds a team, the team members become subcontractors. This is standard business terminology across all business fields. Small businesses can be prime contractors and build teams with other subcontractors to provide a broader set of services.

Who defines the task an interpreter or translator does?

Moros (pages 20 and ff) states that when workers were not involved in describing their jobs, it led to significant problems. Stopwatch measurements of factory work were not objective, since workers and those who measured time did not agree on the definition on what the “task” was. Only managers defined tasks, assuming they were neutral, and paying attention only to their own interests. However, those doing the work have other interests that need to be considered, and human activity can’t always be measured, analyzed, and controlled the same way a physical object can be measured. The factory system of charging by the piece has been transferred to translations, where the product is often charged on a per word or per page basis, and fast workers make a better income. The quality of the product is not considered in this system.

Since translation and interpreting are essentially the transfer of messages constructed by human beings, this is a complex task that humans must carry out, and it is not a task that machines will be able to do effectively. It is important for practitioners to be involved in representing their profession and providing resource materials for users of translation services.

However, the language services field depends heavily on large language service companies as prime contractors, and therefore these businesses are the ones that provide most of the information to translation and interpreting clients.

Problems in our field

Beninatto identifies two problems in our field, and I added a third one:

Lack of outsider analysis. Beninatto says this is a problem because very few outsiders know much about the field. However, contract officers are learning more and more by analyzing the work product they receive.

Playing nice to avoid controversy (Beninatto). The CLPs depend on the intermediaries for a living. Therefore, writing documents that challenge material written by those who hire them could be difficult. What criteria have professional associations established for accepting article drafts? It is important to publish a variety of perspectives to avoid creating an echo chamber, as Mr. Beninatto calls it, in professional publications.

Lack of transparency regarding conflict of interest. When conflict of interest is not disclosed, and the information is generated by intermediaries, not practitioners, the profession may not be defined accurately.

How practical is it for practitioners to be involved?

Independent translators and interpreters are also in a difficult position. As the Theory of the Translation Company states (pg. 139), “LSPs rarely employ in-house linguists. Most linguistic services are outsourced, either to smaller LSPs or to freelance CLPs.” In other words, questioning the statements of an LSP can be dangerous in terms of workflow. Contractors have no protection if they fall out of favor with a client.

Where can practitioners publish?

It is possible for professional translators and interpreters to submit factual, well-researched articles to a professional association for publication. This is where independent contractors can publish the theory they are developing based on their daily practice of their profession, and help the profession grow.

The published articles should be reviewed by colleagues who have subject matter expertise in the topic and do      not have a conflict of interest.

How to prepare an article

Consider your audience

What kind of role do your readers play? Are you writing to translation buyers, to translators and interpreters, to decision makers in government, to language companies?

Put yourself in their shoes and think of how they might respond, what they might need to know.

What do you want your readers to learn?

Summarize what has been published. Be somewhat objective about the strengths and weaknesses of the previously published materials. Base your response on that and document your statements. Links to reliable sites will give your document credibility. Quoting the documents you are responding to will help people see the issue you are addressing.

Review it with someone who has a critical eye

As an independent provider, I suggest a further step. Discuss the article with people who can tell you how others might respond. Change whatever you need to change.

Be open to having the professional association review it!

As a professional, you have a voice. Analytical, well documented presentations on issues by practicing professionals are key to the peer review process of any publication and the growth of the profession.

Translators and Interpreters: The True Influencers

In this article, I will define influencers as those who make change happen, who are catalysts of the developments they seek. In translation and interpreting, that is up to the professionals in the field. This is true of any other profession, since the professionals understand their field best. According to the authors of The General Theory of the Translation Company, we need a bit more debate to move forward as a profession.

The translation profession has advanced since the early days of Saint Jerome and Marco Polo, through the celebrated interpreters of the Nuremberg trials, and the legislative and certification accomplishments our colleagues have led us through in the United States since 1964. At this point, nurses assume healthcare interpreters will be certified, judges assume that interpreters are certified, and contracting officers expect translators to be certified or be able to demonstrate equivalent skills. We have shown that we are professionals.

What are the new challenges that lie ahead, as we work with clients in today’s world?

Due to the limited resources many companies have today, there is a new emphasis on leveraging all the skills employees bring, including their ability to write in languages other than English. That means that translation is not always outsourced to professional translators. We will be asked to review the text that is either translated or written directly in the non-English language by the employees. To be ready for this task, it helps to pick up some editing skills from our colleagues in editing associations such as the Editorial Freelancers Association (for English) or the Spanish Editors Association (for Spanish). Being able to discuss the text from an editor’s point of view will help us in our conversations with clients.

Bilingual employees review our translations for suitability because they are in contact with the public who will use our translations. We need to learn how to respect their point of view and accept some of their input while defending some of our choices.

As interpreters, now that our work is remote, we have different scenarios than we were used to. For example, when we were trying to connect with the Spanish speaker in an attorney-client interview, we realized that the attorney would not be able to dial that specific number. I was able to solve the communication problem by translating a quick email, translating the email with the response, and so on for a couple of hours, the same time I had reserved for the appointment in the first place. I became a transterpreter.

When we are asked to rush through a translation, we need to help our clients understand the risks involved. Can we translate in our sleep? If we ask for help, and we work with a team, then we have to spend some time unifying the text. Partial deliveries of a project can mean that we have to go back and send updated translations. The more our clients understand these issues, the more they support us. I usually tell my clients I will charge them extra for worse quality. They limit the amount of rush translation.

When we interpret on a remote platform, do we ask how we will communicate that it is time for us to say something? Can we turn our cameras on to get their attention when we need to? Do we get the information we need ahead of time to prepare for our interpreting assignments? Even having the material that the attorney will read out loud during the appointment is helpful so we can sight translate and follow along.

How do we prepare to shine tomorrow? Do we watch our health and stamina level and make sure we don’t overextend ourselves? We do very poor work when we are overly tired, and our clients are the first to notice.

How do we manage to keep track of it all? When I studied to be a teacher, my professors told me I could delegate everything that would not have my imprint. Could someone else format our text so we can use a CAT tool? Can someone else do our bookkeeping? Can someone else help us with our website? Can someone else troubleshoot that computer problem we are having? Would that free up our time for translation and interpreting so we can make more money on what we do well?

Do we spend time interacting with our clients so we can know them better? That will help us serve them better and help us be the ones to define our role. By doing that we will learn about interesting learning opportunities at SCORE, at the Chamber of Commerce, at the Oregon Medical Association and other places that might not give us continuing education credits but will make us much better at serving our clients.

Clients are looking for professionals who are certified in what they do, continually improve their craft, and advocate for their profession. That is what accountants, engineers, attorneys and other professionals do. They love it when we tell them, “Sorry, that day I am meeting with some government officials to discuss the profession.” We, the practitioners, define our profession. We move it forward. We, the professionals, go to the halls of government and tell them how we do our work. The future of the profession is in our hands.

A language access timeline for interpreting on the West Coast

 

This post originally appeared on Gaucha Translations and it is republished with permission.

Interpreting is a professional field. What was once done by whoever was bilingual now has an established certification process. There are less and less reasons to work with unvetted providers. This timeline tells the story on the West Coast, where I live. I am from Oregon, where I am certified as a healthcare interpreter and a court interpreter. The story is told from an Oregon perspective. However, nothing happens in isolation. Oregon often works in partnership with the other West Coast states, or observes their work closely. What happens in the court interpreting field affects the work in the healthcare interpreting field. The story would not be complete without the federal context. Therefore, there are elements from all West Coast states and the history of court and healthcare certification is intermingled.

1964: Passage of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.

1974: Lau v Nichols, a case brought in California that was decided in the Supreme Court: This court case establishes that national origin includes language. When children arrive in school with little or no English-speaking ability, “sink or swim” instruction is a violation of their civil rights, according to the U.S. Supreme Court in this 1974 decision. Lau remains the major precedent regarding the educational rights of language minorities, although it is grounded in statute (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), rather than in the U.S. Constitution. At issue was whether school administrators may meet their obligation to provide equal educational opportunities merely by treating all students the same, or whether they must offer special help for students unable to understand English. Lower federal courts had absolved the San Francisco school district of any responsibility for minority children’s “language deficiency.” But a unanimous Supreme Court disagreed. Its ruling opened a new era in federal civil rights enforcement under the so-called “Lau Remedies.” The decision was delivered by Justice William O. Douglas on January 21, 1974. (quoted from Lau v. Nichols excerpts at Languagepolicy.net)

1978: Federal Court Interpreter Act: determined that The Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts shall establish a program to facilitate the use of certified and otherwise qualified interpreters in judicial proceedings instituted by the United States. NAJIT provides a listing of currently certified Federal court interpreters. Currently, this certification program is limited to Spanish.

1981: Complaints are filed with the OCR, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on behalf of clients at three different hospitals in Washington State, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The complaints allege that, by not providing service in a language their patients can understand, the hospitals are discriminating against patients on the basis of national origin. OCR and the hospitals sign voluntary agreements.

1982: MAA’s (Medical Assistance Administration of DSHS) reimbursement program decreases the hospitals’ share of financial reimbursement for those patients on Medicaid.

1989: Region X OCR issues a brief guidance on the need to provide qualified interpreter assistance if receiving federal funds. DSHS sends a reminder letter to Medicaid contracted providers that they must provide language access services to their clients

1989: WA State Court Interpreter Act creates court interpreter certification program under AOC and interpreter commission.

1991: WA State agrees to pay for interpreting services for Medicaid patients.

1991: Negotiations for consent decrees are the result of Evergreen Legal Service’s continuing complaints (and court dealings) that Washington State’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was not living up to its earlier agreed upon measures to provide translation/interpretation service. Reyes Consent Decree settles class action Title VI lawsuit and creates the DSHS interpreter certification exam.

1993: First certified WA DSHS Social Services exams.

1995: First certified WA DSHS Medical exam as part of the certification program for medical and social service interpreters.

1993: The Oregon court interpreter certification program was instituted by statute, and is now administered by the Oregon Court Language Access Services. An interpreter may be certified in Oregon by the State Court Administrator upon satisfactory proof that the interpreter is certified in good standing by the federal courts or by a state having a certification program that is equivalent to the program established under this section.

1995: Oregon and Washington, with New Jersey and Minnesota, founded the Consortium for State Court Certification. This came about as a consequence of findings and professional relationships established during research conducted by the National Center for State Courts between 1992 and 1995. (NCSC FAQs)

1996: California passed the California language assistance law and began administering its medical certification exam and its court administrative hearings exam

In the opening paragraph,  the California language assistance law says: As used in this article, “language assistance” means oral interpretation or written translation into English of a language other than English or of English into another language for a party or witness who cannot speak or understand English or who can do so only with difficulty. […] The cost of providing an interpreter under this article shall be paid by the agency having jurisdiction over the matter if the presiding officer so directs, otherwise by the party at whose request the interpreter is provided.

1996: The Federal Government passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which defines confidentiality. Contract health care interpreters are considered business associates and are required to comply with this law.

2001: The federal executive order 13166 was signed. EO 13166 requires Federal agencies to provide meaningful access to services to people with limited English proficiency, and to ensure that beneficiaries of Federal financial assistance also comply with this requirement. This is to ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are accessible to LEP persons and thus do not discriminate on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VI’s prohibition against national origin discrimination. The Department of Justice provides detailed information on this topic, as well as resources to fulfill this guidance, at lep.gov.

Court interpreters are now required to show proof of continuing education every two years in order to maintain their credential.

2001: The Oregon Health Care Interpreter law was passed. This law defines qualifications for health care interpreters in Oregon, creates a registry for certified and qualified interpreters, and encourages the use of certified health care interpreters or qualified health care interpreters whenever possible to ensure the accurate and adequate provision of health care to persons with limited English proficiency and to persons who communicate in sign language.

2010: Bill granting unionization rights to interpreters rendering services to WA DSHS and their Medicaid clients, directly or indirectly passes. WFSE wins PERC election. Interpreters elect their first bargaining team.

2012: National medical interpreting certification programs NBCMI and CCHI were accredited by NCCA. See this comparison chart of interpreting certification programs in the Northwest.

2012: The US Department of Justice updates its Language Access Plan, clarifying the definition of vital documents and qualifications of interpreters and translators. There is more information on www.lep.gov.

2014: Oregon health care interpreters gave public testimony on HB 2419, a bill related to their profession, for the first time.

2016: Interpreter services provided by a health care interpreter certified by the Oregon Health Authority were specifically included in the Oregon Worker Compensation rules based on testimony submitted by Helen Eby, OSTI President at the time, in November 2015.

2018: Language defining the qualifications of interpreters and translators was included in the regulations for the Affordable Care Act.

2018: Bill grants unionization rights to interpreters working WA L&I and DES appointments. It also requires centralized online scheduling system for all executive branch state agencies.

2019: Bill granting Oregon healthcare interpreters the right to unionize, making the State of Oregon the public employer of record of health care interpreters, passes.

We have come a long way!

The field of language access has grown in professionalism, based on laws and court proceedings. We could not have done this without the support of those who came before us. Now we have to continue to grow in applying professional standards, so interpreters are united in their application and those who work with us know what to expect from a professional in our field.

2020: Approximately 700 certified and qualified interpreters on the OHA registry and approximately 150 certified and registered interpreters on the Oregon Court Language Access Services registry.  A search of RID members in Oregon yields 212 results when selecting all available certifications. There are approximately 1000 professional interpreters in Oregon, assuming no overlap. As a point of comparison, in 2013 the Oregon Health Authority listed 41 certified and qualified health care interpreters on its registry, compared to 700 today.

Related articles: The National Health Law Program published a Summary of state law requirements addressing language needs in healthcare on April 29, 2019.

Resources I consider very useful:

1994: The Interpreters Rx, by Holly Mikkelson, was published. This was written to support interpreters who prepared for the medical-legal exam, which is all that existed in California at the time. It was really testing for medical-legal evaluations.

2007: Eta Trabing published the Manual for Interpreters in School Settings. This is one of the earliest resources for school interpreting available.

Emails asking for translation or interpreting rates: Here’s how I respond

I often get requests for my rates from organizations that are trying to build a database of individual translation or interpreting service providers. An individual provider is a person who does their own work, also known as an interpreter or translator. Keep in mind that prime contractors (large language companies) can’t provide services without a sufficient number of subcontractors (individual translation and interpreting providers). We as the practitioners have a responsibility to steer this conversation.

The prime contractors often start with questions about rates, and their emails go something like this:

“I found your name on the website for Professional Association X. Are you interested in translating or interpreting for us?”

Note that there is no personalization. Nothing about your specific profile that stood out, nothing personal. They aren’t trying to build a business relationship with you; they just want data.

“If so, what rate do you charge by the [insert very small unit here]? Are you certified in [insert specific certification here]? Do you have any experience with [insert specific service]?

Sincerely, Person X”

At the end of these emails you’ll often see phone numbers listed in more than one city. So you know for sure that if you call, you won’t get Person X on the line! So how do I respond?

“Yes, I would be thrilled to translate and interpret for you! I charge by the [usual large unit, minimum number of units]. I am certified in [list all my certifications, not just the one they asked for]. I have experience in [providing specific service]. As a matter of fact, I have been doing that since [year], and my clients preschedule my services at the rates mentioned above.

For more information, please check me out at [LinkedIn, my website, etc.]”

This way, when someone contacts me back, I get to continue the conversation on my own terms. I make the next move and set the terms of the discussion. I own the story about my profession and get to answer the questions I wish they had asked instead of the ones they did ask.

Next time you get an impersonal client email that seems to be fishing only for numbers and data to add to a database, try this technique! Professionals set their own terms and set rates that work for them.