Spanish Translation  //  Traductor inglÚs-espa˝ol  //  Traduction franšais-espagnol

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Accurate translations?

When it comes to translation, the term that most people use for defining a good one is "accurate." In most people's minds, an accurate translation is a quality translation.

But is it really?
That's the question, and it inevitably leads us to the next one:

What is an accurate translation anyway?

An accurate translation is one that faithfully conveys the meaning of the original text. A potato is a potato and a tomato is a tomato.

So that's it, that's what I call a quality translation

You can call that a quality translation. You can indeed set the standard there and leave it at that. In fact, in my experience, this is where most translation agencies and translators set their quality standard.

But that is not what I call a quality translation

In fact, I wouldn't even call that a translation at all. In my mind, a translation must absolutely speak to the reader in his or her own language, instead of merely using words existing in his or her own language. And a translation can be accurate and completely bypass this requirement. Think of a company slogan translated from a foreign language along these lines: "We are the experts of computers of the world." It is accurate, it uses legitimate English words, it carries no misspellings and it conveys the message perfectly. But sadly, it also conveys the following unexpected message: "We are an amateur company and we do not care enough for our prospective customers to take the pains of choosing a quality translation provider who will talk to them in their language rather than perfectly defensible, faithful, correctly spelled and accurate gibberish."

I recently read a professional translator's remarks acknowledging that oftentimes he could see that a sentence he had just translated sounded unnatural and clumsy in his native language, but since it did the trick and conveyed the meaning he would just move on to the next sentence. Thinking of a better, more suitable and natural alternative would have taken him a lot of time. This is understandable given the time-sensitive nature of many a translation project, but let us see if there is more to it than meets the eye.

A quality translation is an idiomatic translation

An idiomatic translation is one that is not only accurate, but sounds like an original, as if it was not translated but originally created in the reader's language. This is real translation, translation as it was always meant to be, translation of ideas and intentions, not just words, into correct, natural and polished language.

I do confess that I can spend up to five or ten minutes with a single sentence, trying to find a more natural sounding alternative to translate it into Spanish. But I can also say that this happens to me less and less often. See, I have been systematically striving to find the most suitable Spanish renderings since I first started professionally translating, to the outcome that now my brain is trained to do this and it does it more and more naturally, quickly and effectively.

Now I don't intend to position myself as a perfect translator and do not consider myself as necessarily more talented than others. It is a question of talent, but it is also and mainly a question of dedication. I've decided not to allow any awkward translations in my work, whatever it takes. And as I said, it doesn't demand so much effort from me anymore, since I would say that consistent practice has pushed my brain's performance and speed in this regard. Sometimes I can produce up to 5,000 words of what I consider as idiomatic, ready to publish translated material in a single day. Admittedly, this is the case for subjects that I truly master and demand little to no terminological research from me. But just to prove the point that idiomatic translation, when approached in a stubborn, tenacious and consistent way will not slow you down, but actually quicken and polish your capabilities and increase your productivity in the short to medium term. Hey, I've only been translating full-time since 2003, so I am not really at the end of my translation career.

Tips for an idiomatic Spanish translation

1. Consistently read with a critical eye lots of different materials in Spanish, such as newspapers, technical, business and advertising materials. Literature from the best Spanish language authors doesn't hurt either, let alone specific works on writing style and correctness (do Grijelmo, Lázaro Carreter, Martínez de Sousa or Seco ring a bell?) And no, translation studies and translation experience are not enough if you don't delve deep into what these experts have to say, on your own initiative and motivation.

2. Never give up on a wishy-washy translated sentence. Keep thinking until you find that one expression that you would have used if you were the original writer, not the translator, of that particular sentence. Take pride in what you do. Can a stupid sentence really defeat you as a translator? If you can't absolutely think of anything right now, mark the spot with asterisks or something else, proceed to the next sentence and come back to the trouble spot later. Eventually the happy idea will come, and you will be so glad that you didn't miss the opportunity of stretching your skill as a translator.

3. Once you finish translating, take as long a break as you can (you can do other things in the meantime) and come back to thoroughly review your translation later. Look out for any remaining weak spots and eliminate them. If you need to change the order of a sentence so it sounds natural, by all means do it. Do whatever it takes to guarantee an idiomatic translation. Once the review stage is over, do perform a spell check. No matter how conscientiously you reviewed your work, chances are you overlooked a couple of typos. Don't let any remain in such a polished copy. However, take this with a grain of salt. Remember that you are the language expert, and that Microsoft Word certainly isn't. If you are in doubt, research the issue a little bit (the experts at #1...)

4. That's it! You can now deliver your translation in all peace of mind, and you will be better equipped to face the next one.


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