I am often asked to proofread a translation. However, clients do not want a superficial job. They want the translation to be as effective as the original document was.

I can’t give a per-word rate, because I cannot predict the general quality or complexity of the assignment. Therefore, I quote by the hour. Sticking to a budget means we have to define the scope of the assignment before we start.

The scope could go from merely fixing mistakes that would make the document useless to making the text effortless to read while maintaining accuracy.

What documents do I need to provide? What result can I expect?

To do a final proofread of a translation, I need both the source text and the translated document. If I only receive the translated document, I would only be reviewing the document in the target language. That does not allow me to deal with its accuracy, and only the following tasks could be done:

  • Monolingual check for spelling and punctuation.
  • Check for readability.

When I have the translated document, I can review the following issues:

  • Check for accuracy in the translation.
  • Check for accuracy, including errors in the source document.
  • Fix clumsy word order that was due to following the source text too closely.

When the translation is not an accurate reflection of the source text, I will ask if the translator was asked to do any adaptation, and what the parameters were.

As I check for accuracy, I am not doing a detailed review of all the content in the text. However, logic and consistency issues will be on my radar. The following are some inconsistencies I have found in my work:

  • A museum can’t do a remodeling project before it is built.
  • Usually, a contract goes by the laws of the state where it will be adjudicated.
  • If a museum is mentioned in the text, I should be able to find it with a Google search.

Can you proofread a document that’s full of errors?

In my experience, it is almost impossible to simply review a document that has significant problems in every paragraph. At that point, a retranslation with another reviewer is recommended.

What could have led to this situation?

Was it reviewed by machine?

Machine translation is far from ideal, and machine review has an equally large set of problems. It might have uses at times, but it should not be the only method to review a translation.

Slator asked translators what they think of automated quality evaluation of translation, regardless of whether the text in question is a machine translation. They had a strong preference for human review of a translation. Here are the results:

  • 5% said it “definitely has its use.”
  • 5% said it is “forever futile.”
  • 25% said it is “outside my core area of expertise.” Is this another way to say “Please, no…”?

Was the translator paid enough to produce a quality job?

When translators are paid a rate that is too low, they rush through the translation and submit a “shitty first draft.” This is merely the first step towards a finished product. Rates that are too low do not allow translators to both review these first drafts and make a living.

They might even just submit a machine translation, with all of its overly literal syntax and confusing translations of important terms, just so they can do enough work to stay in business.

In sum…

Looking over the document thoroughly (and with a fresh pair of eyes) produces a more useful final document. This takes time and is best done by a professional translator with credentials such as the ATA certification. Starting with a quality translation is also important. All of this takes time, but it is worth it in the end.