Author Archives: rhabil

“It depends on the context”

If there was an award for the most repeated phrase in the world of translation, it would definitely go to the sentence “it depends on the context”. No translator is free from the guilt of uttering these cliché words to their fellow conversationalists who turn to them for linguistic guidance. Be warned: whenever you ask a translator about the meaning of a term, the answer you get will remain unaltered unless you provide him or her with contextual information. The classic course of the conversation would be along the lines of:

it depends on the context

Your translator will always answer you with: “it depends on the context”.

Asker: “what does “knock” mean?”

Translator: “it depends on the context.” 

Asker: “do you know the meaning of “set”?”

Translator: “it can mean to establish or decide or to fix something, depending on the context.”

 The importance of the context

No matter how repetitive these words appear to be, they still constitute the most truthful answer a translator can give you. The interpretation of some words, such as “knock” and “set”, is highly context-dependent. If he or she was to answer with: “knock” means “to collide with something”, the definition would not be suitable in the phrase “the knock on him was that he couldn’t handle the pressure”. The correct definition would have been “harsh or petty criticism”. Contextual integration is therefore essential to achieve a reliable definition. In fact, most English words are highly ambiguous and sometimes semantically unrelated (e.g., watch: a time piece, to look; rose: a flower, past tense of rise). The meaning is therefore predicated on the linguistic context or the situational context. Words in one phrase are not present in isolation; their interaction with other words in their environment is what truly governs their meaning.

In order to achieve an effective translation, the translator must be able to decontextualize the source text and recontextualize it in the form of a target text. Machine translation and free language services on the internet are still defective because of their inability to identify the context. This is the differentiating factor between human translation and machine translation and a clear illustration of the importance of the context.

Freelance Translator Tips for a Successful Career

Welcome to the world of freelance translation! If your goal is to succeed in the competitive world of location-independent translation, you have no option but to subscribe to the idea of the survival of the fittest. ProZ currently has 1,008,777 registered translators and translation companies. If you want to stand out in the eyes of your client, you need to step up your game and take some serious action. This guide includes practical freelance translator tips that are normally overlooked and can help your career skyrocket.

The importance of having a competitive spirit

If you are transitioning from a student to a freelance translator, you are probably oblivious to your duties as a freelance translator. Newcomers who dive in head-first into freelancing will probably find it hard to cope. Lacking some basic skills, their career tends to be a bumpy ride and their business is likely to die off prematurely.

Freelance translators who have been in the field for some time should aim to expand their pool of clients and double their revenues. A big mistake freelance translators make is taking their foot off the pedal as soon as they have a steady workflow and a decent income. The problem is that they might not survive for long in this environment because they are being outcompeted by their more motivated counterparts. Having a competitive spirit is the atom of self-development and one of the key freelance translator tips.

Freelance translator tips provided by professional translation companies

Why you should take freelance translator tips from translation companies

Contrary to freelance translators, professional translation companies operate based on core processes in every stage of the translation project. They follow international standards and have documented procedures. In-house translators have to abide by the company’s regulations, which guarantees that the translation has gone through the required processes to render it effective. You don’t expect to go to the doctor with the sole purpose of getting a treatment. Your doctor has to run a diagnosis, a revision and finally prescribe the appropriate treatment.

This is an advantage translation companies have over freelance translators. They have a team of project managers, translators and proofreaders who are focused on fulfilling the requirements in every stage of the project.

Common freelance translators mistakes to avoid

If you are thinking of collaborating with a freelance translator, you have to keep in mind that they are supposed to be juggling these three key roles. The truth is they are almost always in a race against time and will deliver the translation without giving their work a second thought. Some might even ask their client or translation company to do them the favor of revising their work or confirming the accuracy of the translation. One of the most useful freelance translator tips is to never depend on your translation company to amend your files.

The fact that the translation is not being revised by another professional is a red flag because it indicates a deficiency in the working system. Students revise their assignments before delivering them to their professors in order to achieve the pass mark. Why should professional freelance translators be exempt from this duty?

The honest answer is: they aren’t. If you want to perform well as a freelance translator, you have to make the effort of sending your client a polished version. You can’t expect to be seen as a professional when you are sending out a drafted document as a final translation. Unconfirmed segments, ghost tags and typos are telltale signs of a preliminary version of a translation. You also can’t rely on your translation company to have your back all the time, because we are also expecting to receive a publishable version. We don’t want to sell services to our clients, we want to offer solutions to their problems. This is why we have compiled a few strategies and freelance translator tips for those who want to build a thriving career in translation.

What are the most important freelance translator tips?

  1. Review the document(s) before proceeding with the translation. You have to adopt a proactive approach in order to foresee possible problems. Make sure you send out your queries as soon as possible and to understand the assignment to the best of your ability. Vague terms, incorrect information and incompatible file formats can be an obstacle in your project. You owe it to your client to let them know in advance. Additionally, you should feel comfortable with the subject matter as well as the deadline.
  2. Adhere to the reference material provided by your client. Many translators make the mistake of neglecting some valuable materials supplied by the client. Little do they know that glossaries, visual reference and terminology databases can work in their favor. Instead, some translators tend to criticize the existing translations based on personal tastes and preferences. As long as there are no fatal mistakes, we urge you to stick to your client’s choice of words. The material provided by the client is probably preapproved and you will be suggesting changes in vain. The project will be sent back to you sooner or later to be rectified.
  3. Do your research. Parallel texts can be a massive source of terminology. You should mine for relevant terms and visual aids in order to boost your translation quality. Unless you have a perfect command of the concerned field, we recommend you to run an exhaustive research. Not only will this deliver an optimal translation, but it will also help enrich your knowledge in the topic.
  4. Be your own reviser. You should only deliver your translation when it’s ready to be published. You cannot count on your client or translation company to correct your errors due to forgetfulness or inattention. Updating your translation memories with unrevised files also means your mistakes will live on, which increases the chances of future errors. Professional translation companies always run an internal QA in anticipation of human lapses, but that does not mean you should take advantage and indulge in making mistakes. This behavior can jeopardize your relationship with your translation company, which in-turn will prevent your career from prospering.
  5. Invest in quality assurance tools and softwares. Never underestimate the power of a basic quality assurance procedure. You can dodge many mistakes using simple and user-friendly programs such as ApSIC Xbench. Dedicating a few minutes of your time to a QA check can do wonders to the quality of your translation.

Professional translation companies appreciate attentive translators who never cease to provide faithful translations. Translation management systems such as XTRF allow translation companies to evaluate their translators and leave notes regarding their work. This approach allows us to separate professionals from amateurs and to assign the responsibility for translating to those who excel at it.

For additional freelance translator tips, please read 12 tips for translators to provide quality translations.