That's a funny thing. Everybody talks about it, and everyone (myself included) tries to assure you that he's got it. From the top dollar agency's reassuring "that's what you pay for" line to the fumbling beginner assuring you that "quality will be there".
Yet, few people ever define what they mean by quality. Too obvious? Not really. For some, it boils down to: "How many spelling mistakes?". Wiser translators include the use of technical vocabulary, how closely the translation follows the original,... But while all of this is relevant, it doesn't say what quality translations are. In this article, I will attempt to describe what I believe "quality" means in the field of translation.
Quality always relates to a goal, a purpose. A translation written in Shakespearean verses is a feat to be applauded, but in a technical manual? Not so much. In translation, the purpose is to relay the original communication in a different language. Same format, same style, but above all, same communication.
High quality translations enables you to reach people who do not speak your language with your message. Poor quality comes about when the message is twisted, changed or relayed in a form that will not be acceptable to the people receiving it (Too many spelling mistakes, messed up formatting, corrupted file formats, etc.).
A translator is often confused with a writer, for both activities require strong writing skills and a better-than-average command of languages. But a translator is NOT a writer - when translating, that is. He is a messenger. You give him a message, and he gets it to the intended audience, exactly as you gave it to him.
Just like any other messenger, a translator has the responsibility to ensure he understands your message correctly, and the right to ask for clarification if something doesn't make sense. He must then relay that message in such a way as to achieve the same impact as the original.
Communication. Not just meaning. "Get the hell outa here!" and "See you later" may both mean that you expect your interlocutor to leave, but I'm sure I don't have to explain the difference.
Quality translations are translations with purpose. They get the message across, whether it is an explanation on how to use a software, a web site to sell bananas, an administrative order...
When I was a kid, I was very fond of reading, but it took me a while to learn that these books were not actually written in French, but for the most part, translated from English. That's quality. When your audience/customer/employee... actually feels the text was written for him by one of his countryman.
And that's the type of quality I'm trying to provide today.
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