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This Is the Translation Process You Should Follow for Top-Quality Translations

Ahh, the translation process! Imagine it as a maze from where you will find your way out only by being aware of its turns and entrants, already at the start. You need patience, wit, and determination to make your way through it.

This article will outline the essential steps you should take for a successful translation, why they are important, and what efficiencies you can gain by integrating artificial intelligence and machine translation technologies into your workflow (whenever safe to do so). Let’s dive in.

What is translation?

Translation is ‘the activity or process of changing the words of one language into the words in another language that have the same meaning’ – as defined briefly by the Cambridge Dictionary. Although this definition is precise, we have to emphasise that all text must be adapted to the target language and its cultural requirements – that is, a word-by-word translation never works.

We can look at translation as an umbrella term under which, among others, we include the steps of localisation and cultural adaptation, which should ideally be included in the process every single time.

What makes translation a process?

What makes translation a process, rather than a one-time task, is that there are several steps involved, each requiring different skills to achieve a successful outcome.

That is, to provide a quality and effective translation, we need:

  • language proficiency
  • cultural awareness
  • subject-matter expertise
  • precision
  • research skills
  • market-specific knowledge
  • using AI wisely

The translation process is a true test of wit and determination. It’s mentally challenging because it requires cognitive effort, where the speed of your thoughts rivals Usain Bolt’s sprinting prowess.

It’s physically strenuous because it is nothing less than a gymnastics routine: your fingers trying to keep pace with your racing thoughts, your eyelids might feel like those of a weightlifter after a day of training, and any contortionist would be envious of a translator’s ability to shape their spine in a way that allows for one more hour of work.

Why would anyone go through it, you ask? Partly out of respect and love for the profession and partly because only by creating and sticking to a defined process translation can be delivered at a high standard.

Understanding translation as a process that’s shaped by its multiple layers leads to a better and more efficient translation that considers the specific needs of the target language, audience, and culture.

Keeping to the pre-defined stages, translators can maintain accuracy, quality, and consistency: it fosters precision and professionalism, guarding against misinterpretations.

Stages of the translation process

Let’s now take a journey through the stages of the translation process. As Claudine Borg notes, the number of the applied stages varies, and so are their sub-phases, depending on the given translator’s preferred method.

Our minds process information differently, and accordingly, our way of work and the applied structures can differ too. Nothing is set in stone – what’s important is to provide a result that meets the client’s needs.

In this case, we will explain translation as a process in three main stages: pre-translation, translation, and post-translation.

Three-Stage Translation Process Infographic

The pre-translation stage

Pre-translation is when we set the foundation for a linguistic masterpiece. This stage includes all the preparation that enables the translator to start working on the source text. We have to scope out the text to assess it so we have all the necessary information to start the translation.

1.1  We read through the provided materials to see them as a whole and gauge their needs.

1.2  We apply existing translation memories if needed.

1.3  We do terminology research to avoid mistranslations and other translation pitfalls.

1.4  We determine the context, the target audience, and the tone of voice.

The translation stage

Translation is needed to transfer a message to an audience that doesn’t speak the source language. This is the heart of the translation process when magic happens and this is the stage the average translator spends most time on.

2.1  This stage involves drafting an initial translation. The translator begins to convert the source text into the target language, aiming to capture the meaning and the tone of the original text. At this point, the draft is far from perfect.

2.2  Self-editing is a crucial step in the process when the translator revisits their work to improve it, weeding out errors that managed to sneak into the target text.

2.3  Letting the text “rest” is a step that, due to the fast turn-around time, is sometimes left out of the translation process but it would be important to step away from the translation at least for a few hours and then look at it with fresh eyes. This way it’s possible to re-examine the text with an objective mindset.

2.4  Refining the translation is one of the last steps in the translation process when the translator scrutinises their work. It may be needed to refer back to the provided reference materials and style guide. Flow, clarity, accuracy, as well as cultural and linguistic norms are ensured.

The post-translation stage

The post-translation stage enables the translation to truly shine. This is the step where proofreaders and editors take over the scene. They examine each phrase and paragraph, making sure that the flow is harmonious, there are no errors present, and that the result resonates with the target audience, that is, the true essence of the source is transported into the target text.

Fluency and coherence are ensured, so the material can fulfil its intended purpose: connecting businesses and cultures and spreading information across linguistic boundaries.

After translation: The TEP process

Clients can request a translation-only service, but for the best outcome, it is advised to hire the full so-called TEP service, which is the acronym for translation, editing, and proofreading.

To this full service belongs the above-mentioned post-translation stage. As detailed in a previous blog post, the complexity of this process inevitably increases the pricing: the more linguists involved and the more time is spent on a project, the higher the price becomes.

In this case, the translation is followed by editing, ideally done by someone other than the translator to ensure a critical review of the document. It has to be a collaboration of the translator and the editor, so the highest quality is achieved. The source and the target files are compared against each other, and client briefs and guidelines are considered again.

The third part of the TEP process requires the proofreader to go through the text without looking at the source material to find the remaining mistakes and inconsistencies as well as to ensure fluency. It is a crucial step to make sure that our material is error-free. This is how translation as a process is realised.

Comparing machine translation and human translation

According to Juan Sager, the beginning of the research into automated translation aids dates back to the 1960s which is staggering data. No wonder then that by now machine translation (MT) has reached a stage where many think human translation is not needed anymore.

The debate around machine translation and human translation is ongoing, and with the speedy development of AI tools, we can expect even more heated conversations about the topic.

Each tool comes with advantages and disadvantages, and although the quality of MT is fast developing, we still cannot and shouldn’t eliminate the services of human translators.

The strength of MT lies in its power to pre-process texts swiftly, providing a foundation that translators can build upon. It can also aid the translation process by ensuring consistency in the case of large files and across various documents that may prove challenging for the human mind and eyes. However, machine translation is nowhere near being able to replace humans.

Pre-editing and post-editing machine translation

Pre-editing and post-editing machine translation are two stages that we apply to maximise the effectiveness of MT. During pre-editing, we process the texts before MT. For the best possible result, we correct grammar mistakes as well as spelling and resolve punctuation issues.

Post-editing is the stage when proofreaders remove semantic and linguistic errors that may be present in the output, as defined by the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting of the Université of Genève.

Despite all the advantages of MT, the importance of cultural insight and the ability of a native human translator to grasp the nuances of a language and the context cannot be overestimated and emphasised enough.

A translation needs to possess the emotions and authenticity of the source material, that resonates with the target audience. Also, not every project is suitable for MT due to its high sensitivity, formatting, or subject. Although real-life translators cannot be entirely left out of the majority of translation processes, not every project needs a human touch, so it is very important to discuss the requirements and targets.

In summary, machine translation:

  • reduces costs
  •  improves productivity and efficiency
  • facilitates the fast exchange of information
  • ensures consistency

And a breathing translator will:

  • add cultural elements
  • ensure creativity and uniqueness
  • match the tone of the source text
  • pay attention to the nuances, idioms, and slang
  • pick up on errors in the source text

A comprehensive translation process harmonises humanity and technology

Translation as a process encapsulates a complex journey from source to target text, from one language to another, from a blank expression to understanding. Each step serves the common goal which may be for two lovers to understand each other verbally, not just in spirit; and this goal could be the merger of two large companies.

Regardless of the subject matter, what counts is that we use the available tools to our benefit, be they human or machine. We need a deep understanding of both the source and the target language, as well as the relevant cultures.

As if the above wasn’t challenging enough, the demands of our days require a fast turn-around which means that we have stepped into a new era when artificial intelligence and the human mind have to collaborate not only to deliver the highest possible standard but to meet some additional expectations.

The translation process has transformed in the last decade and we can expect it to develop even further. The role of a human translator though is still crucial, and if we look at machine translation as something that empowers us and aids our pursuits, then communication can become even more effective and cross-cultural understanding ensured.

Adrienn Gecse picture

Author: Adrienn Gecse

Adrienn is a freelance writer, her nichés are arts, culture, and travel. She offers content writing services for museums, cultural organisations, travel agencies, artists, and those in general who work toward positive change. Adrienn holds a doctoral degree in Tibetan and Mongolian Studies from Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary) and a master’s in African Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (UK). Her work history includes the Hungarian National Museum and the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, and she has supported the work of various NGOs as a researcher, writer, and translator, in Hungary, the UK, and Mongolia.

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