Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

Some days I feel curmudgeonly. And here's why.

How does a client know if a translator is good? Experience, education, qualifications... If you want to hire a translator, should you require that he or she has a degree in translation, a degree in the subject matter, sufficient experience...?

Here's a query about how to translate: "Do not make change for a customer outside of their order."

A difficult sentence? Tricky? Requires specialized technical subject matter knowledge?

Two translators with university degrees in translation thought it meant "Do not make any change that the customer has not ordered," while another translator, with over 20 years experience, thought it meant "Do not make changes to the customer's order." And yes, all of them purport to translate professionally from English.

So if you were going to hire a translator, would you judge them by their qualifications and experience, or by their product? Why are translators so resistant to doing tests? On various translator forums where translators voice their opinions, I read that tests are useless; tests only take advantage of translators and yield no benefit; that a potential client can better judge the translator's competence from their qualifications, education and experience.

On the contrary, I see evidence time and again that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the recipe.

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At December 17, 2006 3:44 p.m., Anonymous Margaret said...

What does it mean? Possibly 'Don't change money for / give change to a customer'?
Confused native speaker

At December 17, 2006 4:11 p.m., Blogger Mago said...

Aha, is this some kind of trans-Atlantic divide? OK, let's say you went to Burger's-R-Us and ordered a combo deluxe for $4.95. The smallest bill you're carrying is a $20, and Kayla at the counter gives you your $15.05 change. That's making change within the customer's order. Now if you pull out another $20 and ask her to change it for you, she's not allowed to do so; this would be making change outside the customer's order.

I think that for a native speaker, the clue that it couldn't mean changes to the customer's order is in the phrase "outside of their order".

At December 19, 2006 3:57 a.m., Anonymous céline said...

I'll never forget this one: http://www.proz.com/kudoz/342288
Even excellent professionals (which both people who answered undeniably are) have bad days. About test translations, I've talked about them on my blog and I agree with you: sometimes, they're the only way a client can assess whether a translator can provide exactly what they want.

At October 15, 2007 12:02 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

A degree in translation will be of no help if you have no idea what the text to be translated means. One translates meaning after all.

Also I doubt that the common man has the expertise to actually evaluate the quality of a translation (unless it reads very badly). If one doesn't know what a bad translation is, one can hardly differentiate between a good and a bad translator. As I always say, if translation training was unnecessary, virtually all translations would be impeccable!

As a general rule, people don't get to decide if they are experts -- experts do. I trust doctors because they have a medical degree and engineers because they have an engineering degree. And I would certainly not let some guy operate on me because he assures me that he is competent.

Keep in mind also that self-taught translators translate the way they _think_ they should. Unless they know they're doing it wrong, they have no reason to do it differently.


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