A word to the wise: Choose the right translator

This is the title of an article in the International Herald Tribune this weekend.

Good advice in parts. I must quote the oddities, though: Professor Alain Thienot used translation software and found many errors. Two are cited:

Among hundreds of errors, the program produced a document that translated the French word “entreprise” as “undertaking,” rather than company, and “frais” as “fresh air” instead of fees or expenses. A frustrated Thienot had to labor five hours a day during his summer vacation to correct “so many stupidities,” he said.

I see the problem with frais, but entreprise > undertaking is good EU English. OK, one can often write ‘company’, but since it narrows the meaning, it’s not always safe.

Translators love collecting stories about these kinds of false economies, in part because it proves that translation still requires the human touch.

I admit I do quote errors, but I don’t think it’s very good translation advertising to pepper your website, for example, with other translators’ errors: it just confirms the association between translation and rubbish. It’s bad enough creating rubbish myself, without assistance from elsewhere.

Lori Thicke, co-founder of Eurotexte, a translation agency in Paris, remembered a client who organized trade shows. A contract he had drawn up with exhibitors of X-ray and MRI equipment was supposed to state that radioactive parts “should never be accessible.” Instead, the poorly translated document stated that “radioactive parts should be exposed at all times.”

I wonder if that was a machine translation? The French double negative is much feared in that context.

In many countries, including France, Switzerland and Germany, official documents may have to be translated by court-approved “sworn translators.” This can lead to cumbersome, and expensive, transactions. … Sworn translators may be no more competent than other professional translators, but they have taken an oath that they will not reveal what they have learned.

I love it! I am a sworn translator and I think I swore to translate correctly, which is bad enough. I often sign confidentiality agreements for clients. And I keep matters I translate confidential. But I don’t think a promise of confidentiality was the main element. The idea is to be answerable, which means traceable.

Doris Schmidt Fourmont, studies adviser at École de Traduction et d’Interpretation, a translation school in Geneva, said confidentiality was part of the ethics of the profession: “to be secret about all that they hear and what they know and what they read.”

I hope she didn’t say that in English.

It is right that one has to be careful in finding a translator, but it should be better known that being a sworn translator, or graduating from Heidelberg University or ESIT, are not failsafe guarantees.

But good advice on not correcting the translation without consultation with the agency or translator.

(Thanks to Elm on the pt list at Yahoo).

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