I sometimes participate in discussion groups on translations to exchange views and experiences with colleagues. There are even specific groups on how to translate a word or phrase, when one can’t really find the right translation. Mostly, these groups concern technical or other very specific texts. Last week, however, someone asked how to translate “Renew X subscription.” This is a quite simple sentence, so people quickly responded. Surprisingly, the first person asks: “Should I write ‘hernie uw’ or ‘hernieuw’?” Clearly, she wasn’t a Dutch native speaker nor did she have a good knowledge of this language. Reading the country this translator worked from, her rates will be very low compared to ours. So one can understand the choice her client made.

Actually, I can’t. I care too much about language and decent communication to let this kind of work pass. And examples appear frequently. A friend delivering certain government licenses to major companies recently told me about a dossier he received that was supposed to be written in Dutch. It was in fact a very poor translation and my friend complained about it to the company submitting the dossier. The company then asked him to correct the text and to provide some comments on how words should be translated, so that they could return and complain to the translator. Instead of immediately looking for a qualified translator who’s a native speaker, they wanted to save money and use our tax money to do the job for them!

I suppose there are spoilers in every business, but the fact that even big companies care so little about translations, bothers me. It gives a bad impression of the company: it’s sloppy and it doesn’t seem to care about what customers or authorities think of it.

Let me make a little bit of publicity for qualified, native speaker translators and explain how I work. Every translator should translate to its mother tongue to guarantee the quality of a text. Only a native speaker catches all the nuances of a language. Even in texts of people who have already lived in Belgium for several years, I can see through small things like articles, prepositions or simple word choice that they grew up in another language. I sometimes translate texts from Dutch to French or English. If it’s a very important assignment, I have a native speaker reviewing and correcting it. Big translation agencies always review their translations, even if they are translated by a native speaker. It guarantees a better quality. Thus, I am not ashamed to tell people how I work. I just want them to get the best quality translation.

Another mistake companies make, is to work with a “general” translator who states (s)he can translate everything, when it concerns a technical text. Little do they know, that even though a translator knows his languages well, (s)he can’t know everything. I, for instance, don’t know anything about engineering. I am not even familiar with its specific vocabulary in Dutch. Then, why would I translate a French text about it? My fields of expertise are already broad enough (check services). Of course I want to help a prospect. That’s why I will look for the right translator for him/her. This is the only way to –again– guarantee the quality of a translation.

Sometimes, the need to save money pushes companies to low cost, unqualified translators. I think, however, that the savings aren’t worth the damage they can cause to a company’s reputation. Or you can end up the other way around –spending more time and money on correcting the translation than you would have spent on a decent translator in the first place.

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