Translating is often thought to be merely the substitution of a foreign word for an English one. Nothing could be further from the truth – the distance between two languages far exceeds the difference in their respective vocabularies. There are issues of grammar, style, terminology and usage, and each document presents its own unique set of difficulties. Although the problems presented by each translation are different, some issues arise more frequently than others. What follows is a discussion of some of those common stumbling-blocks to an ideal translation.
One of the greater challenges facing a translator is working with documents that have not first undergone a professional edit. Such documents often show traits typical of poor or hurried writing; these include problems with parallel structure, overuse of the passive voice, structural inconsistencies, convoluted sentence structures, etc. Weaker writing compels the translator to compensate, alter sentence structures, and edit – all according to his/her taste. Thus: the weaker the writing, the less accurate the translation will be.
Additional problems that the translator must deal with include: (1) technical terminology — legal codes and regulations, for example, or jargon tailored to a specialized group or institution, such as educators or health professionals; (2) acronyms, many of which require retooling into the second language (UN into ONU, USA into EEUU, etc.); and (3) idioms and terms that have no logical or meaningful equivalent in the second language.
Because every author has his/her own unique style, we make every effort to make only essential changes to the original, and thereby strive to preserve his or her stylistic choices. Literary translations naturally integrate the styles of both the original author and the translator. Even in technical documents, however, because of the impossibility of composing a truly word-for-word translation, stylistic choices must be made, and the emerging document will likely be a hybrid of both stylistic approaches.
If the person requesting the translation wishes a particular translation of a word or term that could be translated many ways, all such preferences should be submitted to the translator with the original document. If no preferences are indicated, the translator assumes the responsibility for selecting the terminology/vocabulary that most accurately and universally represents the term. All completed translations are submitted to the requesting individual for review prior to printing. This provides the client a final opportunity to suggest changes, indicate preferences, point out misinterpretations, and the like. Changes at this point in the process are sometimes difficult and expensive to make. This is why clients are encouraged to express their preferences before the translator begins his or her work.