Every Cloud Must Have a Silver Lining - Part 2
So when the other day I heard a friend who works in IT suggest a few major changes to a translation I'd made for a subtitling project, I realised that many people are still unaware of what it actually entails to edit—not re-write, not re-phrase—a translation.
I think editing is not a profession that a) can be learnt in a fortnight; b) you can ever stop learning; c) will make you healthy, wealthy and wise (though I guess it probably makes you wiser with time); or d) will have you smiling and chanting at the sight of every text you accept to review.
To cut a long story short, in order to be really good at their job and act like a pro, a translation editor needs to stick to a series of best practices which, even if they may vary per country, per project and sometimes even per pro, are most likely to help them see the light at the end of the tunnel or find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Why not anyone with some knowledge of the SL/TL can edit a translation
Many people tend to believe that editing and proofing are more or less the same thing, and that when it comes to reviewing a text, all they have to do is simply rephrase the bits (terms, sentences, paragraphs) they don't actually like in order to make the original version of a text DISAPPEAR.
Well, that’s more or less what my friend did when I simply shared with him a video on IT software I’d just translated. I shared my work with him once the video was already released on the Internet because I thought he might be interested in it. Now, my friend must have got pretty excited with the content of the video itself, because his reply consisted of a number of changes he only meant to "suggest"—though unasked—in order to show me how he "would have" phrased certain segments—in fact, he was virtually rephrasing all my subtitles!
So what I did was breathe in, breathe out… And then I started typing my response to my friend, as kindly as I could, though don't get me wrong. I didn't intend to sound too vain, but I wasn't going to account for my own decisions as a professional translator. Besides, there was plenty of evidence—not just my own opinion—that it was a job well-done, so what I meant to do was simply try to explain to him that what he had done by submitting his "suggestions" to me was, in my language, create an entirely different target text. Which, by the way, read generally OK, but that's not the point.
The thing is, even if I had asked my friend to edit my translation, is that what a professional translation editor is supposed to do? Rephrase every sentence they don’t like, even when this could mean every single sentence in a translated text?
In truth, if translation editing consisted of merely turning one's preferences into the rule and applying that rule to everything that doesn’t comply with it, then no original version of a sentence would survive the editing process. Also, no translator would really read like themselves, but rather like their editor, while literally anyone would be capable of doing an editor’s job, provided they are happy to lawlessly redo a translator’s job.
What makes a good translation editor stand out
As per the European Commission’s Revision Manual, one of the key principles that define a good translation revision is to “Assume from the outset that the translation to be revised is of good quality.” Now, even if they don’t work for the EC’s Translation Department, every professional editor knows that this principle is an essential part of their role as a linguist whose job is to boost a translation, not rewrite or rephrase every part of it that they happen to dislike. At the same time, if the quality of a translation is clearly sub-standard (its register sounds inappropriate, its terminology looks inadequate, the target text is full of typos and/or spelling errors, etc.), then the “translation should be given straight back to the translator” (or to the project manager and the translator, if you work with translation agency clients).
So taking these two basic principles into account, how can you stand out from the crowd of linguists who suddenly call themselves ‘translation editors’ and allegedly provide editing as well as proof-reading services?
Rule #1—Stick to the economy principle. Have you ever heard how the “small is beautiful” formula can be applied to editing? Well, simply swap “small” with “less” and you’ll know—the less changes you make, the better. Now, “the better…” what? Well, the better you will profit from your own time and effort (…productivity), the better the translation should be before you start editing (…the quality of the original), and the better chances you stand of making an irrelevant change or introducing an error (…service you will provide).
Rule #2—Avoid accepting to edit a text that literally needs to be re-translated. Sometimes out of curiosity and many times out of ignorance, budding translation editors seem to assume that if a translation looks too bad, it is actually their responsibility as editors to make amends for the translator’s mediocrity--this is not true! The idea behind editing is not to re-do the original translator’s job but to improve on the final product. Ultimately, a reliable translation editor will make the translated text comply with local grammar rules, bear the right terminology according to the target field and audience, boast a style that contributes to the legibility of the text and stick to the end client’s preferences or reference materials. That being said, it’s OK if one or two sentences do actually need some rephrasing, but if you feel like you’d need to rephrase the whole text—or even a significant portion of it—, in order to render it tolerably legible, context-adequate or basically understandable, either the translation is not good enough and therefore is not ready yet to go through the editing process, or your own editing techniques need some… well, editing!
Rule #3--Go through your own edits before submitting your deliverable. When I first started working as an editor, I didn’t know most of the things I know now through constant learning and work experience. There is no school for translation editors where I live, so you either self-teach yourself to edit like a pro or you become one through experience. I admit I am the result of a bit of both strategies, plus my translation background and my current studies in Language and Literature. Anyway, when I was a newbie, I remember I had a project come back from an agency client because of a couple of avoidable typos in my deliverable. In the case of editors, even more than in that of translators, a job well done means a final version of a text which is 100% error-free—typos included. So when you’re editing, don’t forget to check your edited translation with a good spell-checker, and try to carry out as many QA tasks with XBench and other similar tools as you can. Also, make sure that every change you introduce undergoes your own personal Self-Quality Assurance process prior to delivery. Otherwise, you may leave an "edited" sentence reading rather awkward, with the edit you’ve introduced and the translator’s original output co-existing in a sentence without any need or relevance, as in “The cat was under the that table.” In order to avoid typos, take the time to re-read an edited segment or sentence. Trust me, it could save you a headache later on, and your clients will be happy and grateful!
Rule #4--Keep a reliable translation editor’s toolkit at hand. Anyone working in the translation industry is familiar with CAT tools, even those who prefer to make a minimal use of them or not use them at all. As well as having a sound knowledge of CAT tools, a professional translation editor will need to be ready to use a series of reliable sources and resources that will help them provide their best possible quality as translation editing services providers. Some of these tools are XBench, Track Changes, ChangeTracker, Apsic Comparator, to name a few. However, contrary to what some people may like to believe, editors are no know-alls—in fact, they are as likely to check all sorts of dictionaries, language forums, glossaries and style guides as most translators need to do over the course of their lives. Therefore, while you should never underestimate your value as a professional translation editor, try not to overestimate your wisdom either. For example, seeing your client’s reference materials is a must, but looking up the meaning of a word in a monolingual dictionary so as to check your assumptions will do you no harm. In fact, it may even help you decide on whether you make an edit or not, depending on whether your assumptions were right, half so or entirely wrong.
Some of the resources I always use as a professional EN/ES editor are FUNDÉU, RAE’s dictionaries, Macmillan Dictionary, the CREA Corpus (by RAE) and my clients’ tailor-made glossaries as well as project-specific style guides.
And you? What tools and/or practices would you recommend to edit like a pro?