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A Final Polish

Some people call it ‘editing’, while others say it is ‘proofreading’. If the translation has been produced by a machine, it is known as ‘post-editing’. Then there are those who prefer the term ‘reviewing’. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary ‘proofreading’ means, ‘reading printer’s proofs and marking any errors’, while ‘editing’ has several definitions, including ‘preparing written material for publication by correcting, shortening or improving it’. This quibbling over semantics has been rumbling for quite some time in the translation community, but I prefer to avoid it where possible. In my own mind, the procedure I follow upon completing the first draft of a translation, to ensure the text is of the highest possible quality and fit for purpose, is simply called ‘checking’.

I am sure that translators use a variety of different methods of reviewing their work, depending on personal preference, timescales, level of professionalism, and so on, but I have developed my own process which suits my way of working and my own peculiar sense of logic. I generally check a text twice, from two different angles – first the target language, and then the source. Of course, a translation must be a faithful rendering of the original text: it must convey the same message and ideas which the author had in mind when putting pen to paper in the first instance. However, it should also be pleasant to read, and understandable in its new form. So, I begin my checking by closing the original work, and reading the English version on its own. That way, it is easier to spot any lapses into ‘translationese’, when the words are English, but the structure, idioms or implied cultural references are not, floating in a kind of limbo between the two languages, but neither one nor the other. One language is merely disguised as another, rather than being completely transformed. Translating is not simply about substituting vocabulary for equivalents in a different language: the translator must also juggle the word order, change or explain anything culturally-specific, sometimes even change the tense, and so on in order to make the new text feel more natural. At the same time, I also look out for any silly mistakes, such as spelling, grammar and formatting errors which, interestingly, I often find in clusters, probably as a result of the onset of tiredness or interruptions while I was working.

This first phase is usually quite fun, and I sometimes even take my laptop downstairs and put my feet up on the sofa, giving me a sense that I am reading a book just for pleasure. I try to read my work as if seeing it for the first time, and this changed mindset often means that I find new things I hadn’t spotted before. I am no longer immersed deep inside the text, inspecting each individual word through a magnifying glass, but seeing the story as a whole, from a distance, and focussing more on the overall picture.

The second stage is a more practical check, like servicing a car or a washing machine. I go back to my desk, reopen the original work, and place it alongside the translation. Using two rulers, I move steadily, line by line, through the documents in parallel, on the lookout for mistakes which had previously escaped my notice, missing sections, or any other discrepancies between the two versions. Although computers have brought many benefits to this job, there are also some drawbacks. It is dangerously easy to delete odd words or entire sections with a slip of the mouse, or cut and paste something into the wrong place, for example, and hopefully any errors of this sort are picked up at this stage. It is more painstaking and methodical than the previous phase, but completing it gives me the reassurance that I am submitting a presentable piece of work that is fit for purpose, in much the same way as someone might glance in the hallway mirror before leaving the house for an important meeting.

This is not a method I have been taught, or read about in some book or blog. I have simply developed this way of working over the course of many projects, as it seems to suit me best. It isn’t set in stone, and can always be changed or adjusted if the need arises. I’m sure other translators have devised their own ways, too, and would be interested to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the subject.

Whether you call it proofreading, editing, reviewing, checking or anything else, this is a vital stage and a means of quality control. Even the best translators make mistakes, change their minds about certain words or expressions, and need to polish their work before sending it to the customer. As soon as a translation leaves the confines of my computer, it becomes evidence of my skills and professionalism, so I want to make sure every single document is completed to the best of my ability. It may add to the timescale required for the project, but I would much prefer to add a few extra days than submit unchecked, unpolished work.



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