When talking about the fluency of our translations, we are covering several topics to prevent mistakes in order to meet the commitments of our clients. In this paper, we focus on on-spot research, open communication, time management and the most important one for specifically fluency error: re-reading techniques.
Because these topics cover more quality subjects (such as accuracy), this class is relevant as a general guideline for translation.
1 Definition of fluency
Our QA (Quality Assessment) system provides a framework for describing and defining quality metrics and is used to assess the quality of translations performed by our translators.
Fluency includes those issues with the linguistic well-formedness of the text that can be assessed without regard to whether the text is a translation or not. Young Translators evaluates this according to the following error types:
We identify grammar issues when they are related to:
a) inflection: declension for nouns, adjectives, adverbs, articles, and numerals on the one hand and inflection for verbs on the other hand.
b) word-formation or, Spelling, orthography, and typography are an issue on their own.
c) syntax of the (target) text.
2. Spelling and Typography
Spelling issues are related to the spelling of words, whereas issues with punctuation or whitespaces in a text are identified as typography issues.
Spelling issues can appear for two reasons:
a) You don’t know the correct form and missed looking it up in a dictionary.
b) Careless mistakes, i.e., you know the correct spelling but somehow got it wrong anyway!
The most common spelling issues are capitalisation, transposition errors, diacritics or result from wrong assumptions on phoneme-grapheme correspondences.
The same is true for typography issues:
a) You don’t know the correct rule and missed looking it up the correct grammar.
b) Careless mistakes, you know the correct rule but, again, somehow got it wrong anyway.
We consider duplication an individual error type. By ‘duplication’ we mean that any kind of content has been duplicated, e.g., a word or longer portion of text is repeated unintentionally. For example, a text reads, “The man the man whom she saw…”.
We identify inconsistency issues when the text shows internal inconsistency regarding abbreviations, when for example a text uses both “app.” and “approx.” for approximately. But also, when a text shows inconsistency throughout the text, for example, when a text states that bug reports should be submitted to a mailing list in one paragraph and in another paragraph via an online bug tracker tool.
We identify a cohesion issue when portions of the text are not put together into an understandable whole when they should. For example, a reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, or lexical cohesion could be missing or is incorrectly placed.
The last error type in our list is offensiveness. We identify issues as offensive when the translation is rendered offensive towards the target audience or culture. For example, what in an American text is considered the ‘OK’ symbol (👌) to indicate approval, is considered offensive in Brazil.
In the following paragraphs, we’re talking about preventing and recovering from fluency errors. Fluency is the basic requirement of a translation, since without it, our translation may cause confusion or is just hard to read. By creating a solid workflow for our own, we are able to focus on other subjects which are also important (for example: the right terminology or style aspects).
2 Ability of research
While working on translations it is a part of our job to learn continuously, and not to solely rely on our own current knowledge.
Therefore, it is necessary to do our own research on the various topics we’re working with. This consists of two parts: continuous personal development and on-spot research. Besides these two there are resources which are context, company or industry-specific in the form of glossaries, which we classify as terminology.
Continuous personal development is something we might be keen to forget. It takes time and the results are not instantly rewarding. However, a small contribution is essential to become better in what you’re doing.
How do we achieve this:
• Write down the obstacles you run into when working on a project.
• Think of interesting topics to dive deeper into to help overcome these obstacles.
• Plan a minimum amount of time per week for research on a certain topic.
• Prepare the sources you will look into, for example a book, blog or paper.
On-spot research is essential when working on a translation and a specific and operational method to consume information directly needed for the project. We can’t know everything, so we will need to gain information from external sources.
Nowadays, almost all on-spot research is connected to modern technology and mainly the use of search engines, which improves both the quality of information, but especially speed in which we can find this information.
With on-spot research we aren’t looking for interesting topics. Neither are we looking at development possibilities. What does count is to receive information as fast as possible and to use reliable sources for this.
How do we achieve this?
• Select main sources in specific fields to use, and have them directly accessible (second screen, open window or next to your workspace). Make sure you’re familiar with those sources, including their strengths and weaknesses.
• If these sources aren’t providing sufficient information, use a search engine.
Keep the following in mind: When there’s any doubt on the information source, don’t use it. When there’s any doubt on the information itself, express it to your project members or double-check.
In our library , we maintain a list of useful sources for both continuous personal development as on-spot research.
The process of translation and revision isn’t as straight forward as we might think, and we need to consider possibilities where we can’t find the correct words or don’t know for sure if the translation is correct. The truth is, many texts are written badly and it’s our job to get a grip on these texts in our translations.
All participants in this process should know asking questions is the best way to get to our goal: the best possible translation. Both as a translator or reviser, feel free to ask the questions you have to each other, the project manager or the client.
It’s also more than fair that we aren’t always certain if what we are doing is according to the clients’ wishes. Both asking questions and expressing doubts are what makes a good linguist.
4 Time management
The obvious answer to fluency errors is to give yourself enough time. How we manage our time starts with the question: How much time is needed for our task?
The answer differs a lot, based on ourselves, the subject, difficulty of the text and our environment. We don’t always know the content or impact of these last two aspects, but we do know ourselves. Calculate the average number of words you handle per hour. You can even consider different subjects or severity levels to get a better picture on how long you’d need for a specific project. When you don’t give yourself enough time, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to deliver the high quality work the client expects.
5 Proofreading and re-reading
There is a lot to say about reading techniques which improve translation work. As a translator, we need to read the translation while understanding the source. As a reviser, we need to read the text while understanding the context. Therefore, we need to re-read the translation in the most effective way.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a general shortcut for proofreading. Techniques are, most of all, personal and good proofreading is time-consuming. The best advice to give is to experiment with these techniques and look at what works best for ourselves. Furthermore, there is a difference between ‘personal’ proofreading techniques, which are relevant for texts that have been written by ourselves (c.q. translators) or ‘non-personal’ proofreading techniques, mainly relevant for revisers.
The backwards reading-technique
The first technique is relevant for contexts when we feel as if we don’t see the grammar errors anymore. This is because we’re programmed to fill in missing pieces automatically, especially in texts we’ve been writing ourselves.
The technique consists of the following: You split up the text in segments (or when using a TMS tool it’s been done for you) and you read from the bottom up to the top. This allows us not to look at the actual content but at the individual words, which makes it a lot easier to discover wrongly spelled words.
We can also read per segment (regularly from top to bottom) but read the individual segments in backwards rank, which has the same effect.
Another good proofreading-technique is to read over the text multiple times while focussing on one specific error at the time. This makes it possible to efficiently proofread a single run. We can look at mistakes we know are making pretty often (for example interpunction errors or the overuse of transition words or conjunctions).
For the first example, we can scan for overuse of commas. Since we tend to use commas the way we do in our native language, this is a very important step. Also, we can look into the last part of each sentence to see if we can find anything disturbing. We may look up how many times we used the word ‘that’ (or corresponding demonstratives in other languages) in the text and modify it when it’s overused.
The best way to make proofreading work more efficient is to write down the common-made mistakes of ourselves or the translator we’re checking. This makes it possible to use this technique. We can grab a piece of paper and write down the errors that we can find more than once. Recognising and knowing your own weaknesses as it is necessary for this technique might seem hard but don’t worry: it will come over time.
Changing context when proofreading
The most important challenge to overcome when proofreading is that we need to prevent ourselves getting used to the content. Therefore, we should disrupt the habits we have by working on it at other times of the day, sitting at another table or use a print out instead of reading from the screen. Also, reading something else in between can help.
Listing frequently made errors
Maybe the most effective way to prevent fluency errors is to get to know our pitfalls, which enables us to check on them specifically. To do this, we can write down the errors we need to correct often. This is a list of the 20 most frequently made fluency errors in the English language provided by the University of Nevada, but we would recommend you making one for yourself and your target language(s):
1. Missing comma after introductory phrases
2. Vague pronoun references
3. Missing comma in a compound sentence
4. Wrong words
5. Missing comma(s) with a nonessential element
6. Wrong or missing verb endings
7. Wrong or missing prepositions
8. Comma splices
9. Missing or misplaced possessive apostrophes
10. Unnecessary shifts in tense
11. Unnecessary shifts in pronouns
12. Sentence fragments
13. Wrong tense or verb forms
14. Lack of agreement between subject and verb
15. Missing commas in a series
16. Lack of agreement between pronouns and antecedents
17. Unnecessary comma(s) with a restrictive or essential elements
18. Fused sentences
19. Dangling or misplaced modifiers
20. Its/it's confusion (Its is the possessive case of the pronoun it; it's is a contraction of it is or it has). For example, "It's a wise dog who knows its limits."