(Not-so) Quick No-Nonsense QA/QC for Legal Translation

Reblogged from the Gostalks blog, with permission

This is to give you some pointers as to what and how to check for, hence a sort of QA/QC checklist, for legal translation:

  • Unless you have perfect memory and consistency, write down a glossary, either a general one or a specific one for every larger project, to make sure that you translate the same term or significant, meaningful expression (not necessarily legal, by the way) consistently throughout the text. This includes especially making sure that, as far as it makes sense, you use no more than one equivalent of the same term and translate no more than one term with the same equivalent. The goal is not to impoverish your translation repertoire or slavishly stick to word-for-word translation but to simply avoid the kind of unnecessary inconsistency that results from randomness. And randomness typically results from short memory.
  • Go through numbers, addresses, dates, prices, etc., at least but not necessarily only once, to make sure that they follow the correct format and always indeed the same format. There may be an exception where the original uses different date formats in different places, for example because of varying the register or quoting from some other document, in which case you should not be overzealous, as the ‘industry’ wrongly tries to teach you, to standardize.
  • Make sure you got them all right, numbers and formats e.g. no confusion between decimal separators and thousands, no zeroes (or other numbers) added or missing, that you’ve got the right currency or unit of measurement etc.
  • Make sure numbers written out verbally in your translation agree with the verbal numbers in the original, not with the digits you’ve only just typed. Note that this means the words in the translation have to agree with the original, not that the words have to agree with the numbers in the translation if they did not in the original. Use CTRL+F for this purpose and check them all one by one. Inconsistencies between the digits and words are not for you to fix, no matter what the ‘industry’ would have you believe in its embarrassing lickspittle desire to employ translators as (ever underappreciated) ghost editors and janitors for original writers.
  • Apply similar steps to the names of parties to the contract or dispute or whatever else you’re translating, such as Buyer and Seller but especially something like Lessor and Lessee (use Tenant and Landlord if possible; afterwards you can Find & Replace All by CTRL+H), interviewer or interviewee etc. Just to be sure, CTRL+F all occurrences one by one, going by the original or by the source or both, using some sort of formula that makes sure you always get them right.
  • It’s probably worth checking specifically for any missed negations. ‘Not’ is about the easiest word there is for a tired translator to miss. You can trust me, it happens to the best of us and more often than you’d think. I translate and revise this stuff all the time.
  • Speaking of which, things need much more checking and much more scrupulous attention if you are (or were) tired, sick, hurried, distracted or thrown off your usual balance in any other way.
  • Actually read everything, every sentence, every word, out loud if you can. Make sure the syntax is correct and clear. Sometimes being clear is more important than being correct, let alone aesthetically pleasing. Many graduates these days, including BA/MA grads and professional writers, struggle with syntax and grammar, largely because of how the education system fails to teach such old-fashioned and unnecessary subjects correctly or at all. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do in fact need to do better than most. But the main problem is not correctness per se, as in compliance with the rules, but the way in which non-standard communication impedes or outright prevents understanding.
  • Avoid producing gibberish, sometimes known as ‘translatorese’, especially if the original is both correct and clear. Check with the client if necessary. Your client won’t bite, or at least shouldn’t. An agency that shuns questions from translators and won’t forward them to the client to avoid having to ask for some attention is not acting professionally. Professionals don’t act like scared puppies. Acting like a scared puppy can have serious ramifications because being intimidated by your client is no defence against accusations of malpractice.
  • Pay special attention to subjunctives, conjunctives, conditionals, future-in-the-past sort of structures, formulaic expressions, customary archaisms and anything else you don’t use in everyday speech, especially if you never even read that kind of language. If in doubt, stick to familiar structures, however less elegant. Simplicity is always more elegant than trying to use sophisticated language and failing miserably.
  • If you can do so without altering the meaning, keep it simple, keep it real and even (gasp!) cut the crap. Don’t sacrifice content for form, but do think whether you really need all those words. Leave anything in that you think could have some meaning (presume you can never be certain), don’t spend too much of your time sanitizing an overly verbose original, but resist the urge to translate mere meaningless ornaments word for word, and avoid real pleonasms and tautologies (if in doubt, leave them in).
  • Don’t, however, fall into the trap of thinking — or being made to think — that an extremely challenging original, complex and convoluted, requiring a lot of education, both general and field-specific, somehow has to result in a translation that is easily understood by a child. That’s not your job but the lawyers’. Non-legal editors in LSPs who argue with you on this point are wrong. And in fact delusional. They could in fact pose somewhat of a threat to the project due to their lack of the kind of specific intellectual rigour that is needed in legal translation and precludes going full-on social justice warrior on the original.
  • Try to get familiar with modern drafting in the target language, but don’t go on a crusade and translate legalese into an honest working man’s language.
  • Identify any spots where you are about to markedly depart from the last vestiges of formal equivalence (viz. your choice of grammar, syntax and vocabulary is completely different from the original while hoping to preserve the actual sense). Make sure you aren’t suffering from a disastrous bout of boredom that prevents you from listening to your self-preservation instinct.
  • Speaking of which: do listen to your self-preservation instinct. It exists for a reason. At least hear what it has to say, and make an intelligent decision.
  • If you’re catching yourself being afraid of intelligent literal translation and going to great lengths to avoid literal translation even where it does in fact supply the best of all equivalents possible, then you should probably avoid legal translation and switch over to literature or marketing. Legal translation is not uncreative, but sacrificing too much fidelity out of a sort of primordial fear of being wrongly accused of overly literal translation malpractice, plain and simple.

Hope this helps. If it makes you think of legal translation as something only a special sort of nerd would enjoy, you’re spot on. Consider that most translators — and I’d say most legal translators — aren’t in fact cut out for legal translation. You’d better just like the job, and if not, then avoid it. There are days or even weeks I have to do something else to avoid going insane.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be legal or professional advice, and in any case it does not establish any lawyer-client or consultancy type of relationship.

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know Before the Phone Rings

Have you ever asked yourself if you have what it takes to be a translator? You probably know it takes more than being bilingual, but did you know there is more to it than being a good translator? If you are curious to know what it takes to build a successful translation career, you may be pleased to learn of this hidden gem offered by the ATA: A Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators. This comprehensive “checklist” for newcomers to the field is a juicy resource that answers the question of what it really takes to be a translator.

Let’s be honest: I would posit that few, if any, successful translators got to where they are today by methodically checking off boxes on a similar list. One example is Pilar Saslow, who writes in another article about what she learned from her follies: The Top Three Things I Wish Somebody Told Me When I First Started As a Freelance Translator. Entry into the profession is rarely a smooth and linear process. However, I do not doubt that many seasoned translators would have loved to have had such a list when they were starting out.

This post kicks off a new Savvy Newcomer series that will highlight questions from the ATA checklist for new translators. In each post, we will delve into several questions and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore the first section: “Professional Preparation (What I need to know before the phone rings).”

Am I willing to invest time, money, and physical and emotional energy to build a career?

There is no such thing as a career that does not require investment. However, most “traditional” careers follow a well-tread path towards success, whether that means obtaining a degree, earning a license, or getting hired at a company. On the contrary, most translators are self-employed, and this independence comes with added responsibilities, including self-motivation. A career in translation requires an ongoing commitment beyond the act of translating alone. But if you love the art itself, you will probably not hesitate to invest the time, money, and energy it takes to build a translation career. Alina Cincan elaborates on the first steps towards investing in your career in her post How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator and 6 Tips to Help You Become One.

Do I know the difference between an employee and an independent contractor in terms of tax law?

Not only are most translators self-employed; the majority are also independent contractors. Independent contractors provide services based on a verbal or written contract (hence the name) with another entity that is not their employer. Unlike the relationship between employer and employee, where the employer pays a portion of the employee’s taxes (in the US, usually 50%), independent contractors are responsible for paying the full amount of taxes owed each year.

Furthermore, it is the independent contractor’s responsibility to keep track of all payments received in exchange for work and to declare and pay taxes on this amount annually or quarterly. This means putting aside approximately 30% of all taxable earnings (i.e., after deductions such as costs, depreciation, etc.) If you live in the US, you can find more information on taxes for independent contractors via the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center. Our own Jamie Hartz also offers tips on paying taxes in this review of The Money Book.

Is my resume up to date and appropriate?

If you plan to offer services as a translator, it is important to have a resume dedicated solely to translation. You may want to include experience in relevant subject areas, but the job you held at the local pet shop years ago probably does not qualify.

Once you have your ideal translation resume, make sure not to let it collect dust. There is nothing like getting a resume request from a prospective client and letting the email languish while you scramble to get your resume in order. Taking the time to update your resume periodically will save you the headache later, and might even land you the client.

Find more tips in Marta Stelmaszak’s guide to translator CVs.

Am I able to give a reasonably accurate word count (in source and/or target languages) and turnaround estimate relatively quickly after I have seen the document?

Some things you simply cannot know until you know them, and word count and turnaround estimates sometimes fall into this category. However, one way to gain control is by tracking word counts and time spent on each project.

Use a tool like Toggl to determine how long it takes you to complete an assignment based on project or document type. You can also keep track of word output per hour to get an idea of how long it takes you to translate certain documents. Once you have your numbers, continue to expect the unexpected and give yourself a buffer so you are able to submit your projects on time.

Have I prearranged quality control measures to guarantee a top-notch product (such as time to mull over my draft, proofing tools, time to proofread, a third reading by a colleague with source- or target-language background, a subject area expert to consult, etc.)?

Never underestimate the importance of quality control. Like many translators, I consider myself a perfectionist, but experience has taught me that even perfectionists make mistakes. There are some things only a second pair of eyes will catch, like the misspelling of epidural (“epdiural”) that I once accidentally added to my dictionary in Word, causing spell check to overlook the typo. Whenever possible, it is invaluable to have a subject-matter expert on hand (whose fees you can budget into your quote) and to allow for ample time to mull over your draft.

Now that we have taken a closer look at things to keep in mind when first deciding to pursue a career in translation, it is time to prepare for what to do when your first clients start trickling in. Stay tuned for the next post in the series: “What to Do When the Phone Rings” (or when the first email arrives, in today’s business world!). Can’t wait for more inspiration? Check out this post by Corinne McKay with tips for new translators and interpreters.

Image source: pixabay