I have heard this from clients and, although I own a translation agency, I have often said it myself. Usually the frustration is related to feedback from a client review, stating that a translation is “wrong,” due to the fact that the “reviewer”:
- Used an online translation tool and got a different word for something.
- Was never given the source English that the translator had
- Doesn't speak English well enough to be able to compare the source text with the translation adequately.
- “Studied” the target language only primarily in school and is not a native speaker.
- Is not familiar with industry-specific terminology.
After investigating, it is usually discovered that this “wrong” translation:
- Is the standard term understood and used in the industry or context, but the reviewer wants to replace it with a Google translation.
- Is a correct translation of the source text, but the suggested translation to replace the “wrong translation” strays from the original and is more of a re-write of the material.
- Is perfectly acceptable and only a synonym was provided.
- Cannot be substantiated with concrete reasons or suggestions: a red flag in the translation business.
- After discussions, is recognized as the correct translation, because the reviewer misunderstood the original English.
Translation is subjective and can be purely preferential. There can be several ways to translate something, none of which is wrong, and one must simply decide which to use. Specifically used industry or company terminology provided by the client is welcomed and can be incorporated by translators and put into a translation memory for future use.
This can be confusing and controversial, as languages are constantly in flux. That is why you need professional native-speaker translators. We actually have some translators and editors whom we will NOT put on the same project, as their writing styles differ too much. They can even end up disagreeing over terminology in their own language. And each of these professional translators is very talented and works well when paired with someone else.
“I hate translation projects” has also been stated by company employees who are given the task when it is not part of their job. When a company grows, often no consideration is given to who will handle the new task of communicating in a foreign language, so everyone fends for themselves and is then saddled with the additional work of managing the translations. Even a two-person company may need to communicate in another language. For these people, translation can be frustrating and even scary. Usually the translation is urgently needed, highly confidential or an extremely large amount of material. They may feel they have no control and must trust that it is done correctly. And they wonder what it is they are paying for. Why does it cost so much? They view it as a necessary evil. I cannot tell you the number of times a first-time translation buyer has said “How will I know it is done correctly?”
Sometimes larger or growing companies with ongoing translations hire a dedicated employee with “translation” in their title or make it a department function. They receive internal requests and send them to the appropriate translation vendor(s).These employees may have an international background and find the process fun, adventurous, challenging, or educational. They love languages and culture. Usually they are detail-oriented and very organized. But even they can “hate” translations when told something is wrong that was supposed to have been professionally done. They may have had bad experiences working with international counterparts, independent translators or other translation companies.
I remember a Polish translation project with thousands of software strings, which were out of context and connected to other strings, with coding we needed to work around. A client contact not working on the project volunteered his 89-year-old Polish grandmother to review it. She spoke little English, knew nothing about software or its function and said “sounds funny, makes no sense, has typos.” It came back to us stating it needed to be fixed. Fixed how? Of course it sounded funny; so did the English, which was just a list of words that didn't form complete thoughts, within software coding.
Whether using a decentralized or centralized approach to translation, be prepared for conflicts. Having someone say “this is wrong” after completing the translation accurately, on time and within the budget puts the kibosh on all the hard work. I am sure there are many who would disagree about the use and meaning of kibosh and how to translate it into another language! And here we go again…