It’s a common attitude among translators to dislike other people translations (OPT). But what I discovered for myself is that this attitude is often unproductive. This post outlines three specific ways for going into a more productive state.
Translation Errors Are Inevitable
I’m very tolerant of errors because I know that translation is prone to errors by design. That doesn’t mean that as translators, we shouldn’t do our best to avoid errors. The truth is that no matter how hard we try, making a perfect translation is often a challenge. First, it’s almost impossible to know and understand all existing words and phrases. There are so many of them that at least one or two will always be unfamiliar or cause problems. Then, it may be hard to know what an author meant exactly by using a specific word of phrase because it may have a different meaning in the current context. Finally, understanding the original phrase is one thing, but finding a short and sweet way to convey that meaning in the target language is quite another. Here, a translator is often between a rock and a hard place, torn between an inaccurate translation that sounds good and an accurate translation that sounds clumsy. Whatever he/she chooses, that’s going to be an error.
Translation Evaluation Is Always Subjective
I think that evaluating the quality of translation is a matter of taste. I remember how we once submitted two English to Russian translation samples from two different translators for the client to choose from. I was 100% sure one of the samples was much better. Imagine how shocked I was when the client chose the sample that I thought was worse! Whenever I revise OPT, I always remind myself that translation evaluation is a matter of taste. By doing this, it’s easier to be more objective and less prone to snap judgment.
The Power of Positive Attitude
I also noticed that a positive attitude has a huge impact on my performance as an editor. When I focus on how bad a translation is, I end up wasting time on thinking about unproductive things like how miserable I am having to revise it. And because I’m now framed to look at this entire translation negatively, I also start to edit things that are actually pretty good, which is a pure waste of time. But when I focus on what’s good in translation even though it’s not perfect, I’m feeling much better about my work, and my performance improves, too. For example, instead of focusing on how style is imperfect, I focus on how accurate the translation is.
Generally, I always look for what’s good in OPT. This way I can enjoy translations instead of getting judgmental. By following this approach, I feel much better about my own work, too.
Please leave a comment if you feel these three tips can help you look at OPT differently. You can also read another post about how an editor can focus on adding value to translation.