With everything that’s written and said about translation, it’s rather strange that there is so little discussion of the actual process of translation itself. Maybe translators fear that if they reveal their secrets anyone will be able to copy them. Perhaps they don’t want to look too hard at the magic they create in case they suddenly find themselves unable to repeat the trick. Maybe some just think it’s just too boring. But whatever the reason I’ve rarely seen anyone explain exactly how they do the actual task of translating.
I’d like to put an end to that. In fact, I’ve touched on the subject before, in this blog post some years ago. And had the MET conference taken place last year in San Sebastián as planned, Tim Gutteridge, Victoria Patience and I were planning to hold a panel discussion on the translation process, but the pandemic intervened and now it seems as if that round-table is unlikely to take place.
What I’d like this post to achieve would be to start a discussion in which other people also reveal their own processes, either in the comments here or on the various social media platforms where it gets shared – not to say that “my process is better than yours” but to give us a chance to learn from each other and all improve.
So this is what I do. To start with, I simply take my source text, import it into MemoQ and start translating. It’s possible that I will have read the whole text before in advance, but it’s quite possible that I won’t. My first translation draft is very rough. I’m not looking to create a finished text here – the aim is to extract the meaning so I can work on it afterwards. I know colleagues who create a much more polished first draft, but I find that extremely difficult to pull off. It’s as if the processes of deciphering meaning and writing polished English are just too far apart in my brain for me to do them simultaneously. Perhaps that’s why I’m not an interpreter. Too often the right words simply won’t come until I’ve got the basic meaning there to work with, although I do get an occasional pleasant surprise when I look at the rough draft later.
I increasingly feel that the real work comes at the second stage. This is when I look at the first draft and start to make it read like proper English, correcting clumsy or over-literal phrasing, changing awkward words and expressions, making checks and ensuring consistency. Whereas no-one will ever see one of my first drafts, I’d be quite happy to share the result of the second draft process. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be pretty decent.
I usually make my third and final draft within MemoQ but looking at the text in the preview function, which shows it more or less as it will appear in the final format. The changes here are usually minor, although sometimes seeing the whole translation like this shows up paragraphing problems and other issues going beyond single translation segments. Because of this, if, for some reason, MemoQ can’t produce a preview or if there are problems with codes or segmentation I will export the file before this stage and do this draft in the final format. Whichever way I do it, though, I’m also on the look-out for any remaining awkwardness: at this stage I try to be ruthless in refusing to allow anything that doesn’t quite read like English to get through.
When I’m happy with the final draft, and assuming I’m still in MemoQ, I run the spellcheck and then run the Quality Assurance check, which looks for possible anomalies involving technical aspects like codes, as well as double spaces and inconsistent translations. When I’ve resolved all the problems this throws up, I export the file into the original format. If that format is Word, I will run its spelling and grammar check and then run PerfectIt, which is a tool integrated into Word that I basically use for catching inconsistencies affecting both grammar and style. I then consider the translation to be ready for delivery to the client.
This process has served me well for several years, but in recent months I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with it. Having my translations revised by Tim and Victoria in RevClub has made me feel that I’m too closely tied to the source text more often than I’d like. But how can I get further from it, when I start with what is necessarily a very literal rendering and then move away so gradually? I could add another revision stage, but the law of diminishing returns would begin to apply. And in any case, I would find it difficult to justify reducing my hourly earnings even more by increasing the time spent on each translation even further.
Another option would be to put more into my first draft. Once again, though, time is an issue. When I try to force myself to write a better first draft, the right words and expressions seem to elude me and take too long to find. And, while in theory if I had a better first draft the second wouldn’t take so long, I have a suspicion that the overall time needed wouldn’t be greater. Of course, I could perhaps drop the third draft if I worked like this, but I believe my translations would then lose quality. Quite often I pick up small, silly mistakes in the final read-through which I really don’t want getting through to my clients.
I certainly need to do something about the first draft, though. It’s the part of the process that takes the most time yet adds least value, because all I’m doing is producing a very rough translation as a starting point for the real work. What I really need to do is find a way of spending the bulk of the time I devote to a job at the stage where the work is really being done the – the second draft – making that a translation rather than a revision stage, which is what I always used to consider it to be.
How could this be done? In my next blog post I’ll look at a possible solution from what regular readers of this blog will no doubt consider an unlikely source.