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It Is Easier to Throw a Bad Translation Away

What Do You Do with a Low-Quality Translation?
Last year, I wrote about the importance of being positive when revising translations. Still, some translations fall below the threshold. We have just completed a large project with tons of 100% matches produced by someone else. Our  team complained so loudly in the process that I feel compelled to share some general ideas about why attempting to fix a bad translation may be futile.

Editing a bad translation is actually two jobs in one.

Obviously, translation is one job; editing is also one job. But an editor revising a poor translation is wearing two hats: that of an editor proper, and that of a translator, as he also has to come up with correct translations in those multiple instances of errors.

This may sound too theoretical, but try it yourself and make sure that you come back and leave a comment, saying how much you feel like “toast “ after this experiment. Not surprisingly, it takes more time than retranslating would. As our team said, problems just never end: Just when you think you’ve fixed everything, you dig a little deeper and find a whole new layer of issues.

For the same reason, many translators do not use machine translation output as a draft in their process. They believe that reviewing and cleaning up “MT spew” is not worth the time it presumably saves.

This is not editing.

Although it may appear to be editing, a job like this is not editing, really. Editing is revising a good translation made by a good translator, with a purpose of finding errors that the translator missed in good faith.

Even if you succeed in pressuring someone to edit a bad translation, the end result is… an unedited translation. Since an editor makes so many corrections, the revised translation cannot be a final product. It requires another eye, now from a third person.

Psychological reason: Translators are “car designers,” not “car mechanics.”

People are generally better translators than editors. When they edit, they have a hard time suppressing their creativity and often end up unnecessarily rewriting the translation. Whether they realize this is their own problem or not, they still end up being frustrated because they spend too much time, often as much as they would need to do the translation themselves, all the while being paid at a revision rate. Since they earn less as editors and feel unhappy in the process, fuming that it is they who should have translated this text in the first place, translators are generally not fond of editing. As a result, there are few good editors to choose from.


Professional translators find it harder to review bad translations than to retranslate from scratch. They may agree to such editing, but then will likely charge their translation rate, not the editing one, thinking to themselves that they will actually have to retranslate the whole thing.

Here is also a link to the article I referred to in this post: “Three Ways to Enjoy OPT.”

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.