TranslationBuying a non-commodityHow translation standardscan help buyers & sellers
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity    To the                   What’s a commodity?                   Transl...
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commoditygamers, genetic researchers, patent                    It is the huge var...
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity                   (“Always do X.” “Never do Y.”4                  “Do Z,...
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity  Failed translation projects are as   guarantee that someone candifferen...
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity                   the one starting point that            Deadline ■  36 ...
Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodityStandards maketranslation a manageable                                How...
TranslationBuying a non-commodityHow translation standardscan help buyers & sellers© Durban & Melby 2007       version 1.0
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Translation non commodity

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Translation non commodity

  1. 1. TranslationBuying a non-commodityHow translation standardscan help buyers & sellers
  2. 2. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity To the What’s a commodity? Translation is2 reader ● White granulated cane sugar not a commodity You may already is a commodity. For all practical This is important, so we’ll say be familiar with purposes, one package is identical it again: Translation is not the contents of to another of the same weight. a commodity. the pamphlet When you send someone to the If it were, it would be enough Translation: Getting grocery store to pick up a bag of to say: “You need a translation? It Right. If not, sugar, you typically don’t specify Go out and ask several translation please take a few the brand, and the person will service providers how much they minutes to read or simply buy the least expensive one. charge per word and choose the re-read it. ● Blank CDs have become a lowest figure.” End of story. [If you don’t have commodity. So long as they hold But it’s not like that. For a printed version the amount of data you need and example, you’ll obviously handy, you can have the right format for your need to specify which language download it free of computer, you’ll probably purchase you want your text translated charge from www. strictly on price. into (e.g. French or German atanet.org] But recorded CDs are another or Japanese). Getting it Right matter entirely. Suddenly there are And just as color and price is packed with dozens of factors involved—the are not the only factors in buying useful information genre, the artist, the song, and so a car, you’ll want to consider for purchasers of on. Q: Would you buy a country other criteria here, too. translation services, & western CD rather than a jazz For example: but was never recording if you hate country music ■ The type of document 1 intended to be but the jazz CD was a few cents being translated. exhaustive. more expensive? Not likely. Is your text a contract, a This brochure, Likewise, a car is not a user manual, instructions Buying a Non- commodity unless all you care for taking medicine, a sales Commodity, is about is whether it has four wheels brochure, a set of Web pages the next step for and passes safety inspection. Many or a financial report? translation buyers car buyers look closely at such ■ The subject-matter expertise 2 and translation factors as fuel economy, needed by the person doing service providers. horsepower, handling, number of the translation. passenger seats, and styling. Someone who knows all about medical technology may not be up on accounting, sustainable Music CDs are not a commodity. development or plasma fusion. Cars usually aren’t either. Nor are translations. ■ The intended readers. 3 Are you targeting teenage
  3. 3. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commoditygamers, genetic researchers, patent It is the huge variety ofagents or simply anyone who possible specifications for a 3might stumble upon your website? translation project that makes■ The purpose of the translation. 4 translation—just like music Sometimes all you want is to get recordings—a non-commodity.(or give) the general idea of A single source text has dozens,a document (“for information”); in hundreds, thousands of possibleother cases, a polished text is translations. Which one is rightessential (“for publication”). for you? Listing your priorities—■ The regional variation of 5 drawing up specifications—willthe target language. help you get what you need. Are your readers Mexicansin Monterrey or Spaniards in A universal truth?Seville? Both speak Spanish The sheer variety of translationbut it’s not the same Spanish. projects is daunting. So daunting, in fact, that even experts Taken together, these and sometimes wonder if there is anyother factors make up the single piece of advice that appliesspecifications for your translation. to all translation projects. Tlme, money and image... Translation is a risky business, as Mead Johnson Nutritionals of Indiana found out a few years back, when misleading Spanish instructions on bilingual labels forced it to recall 4.6 million cans of Nutramigen Baby Formula. Following the flawed directions could have caused illness or even death, said company officials. Feedback from sharp-eyed linguists has served Swedish housewares company Ikea well. “Svalka” means “refreshing” in Swedish—a fine choice for a line of drinking glasses, thought management. Unfortunately it means “landfill” in Russian. (The company’s Moscow team axed the final “a” for glasses sold locally, retaining an exotic flavor while avoiding an unfortunate association.) A California manufacturer of medical equipment sold a device in France without a French translation of the instructions for using it, wrongly assuming that all the operators would be fluent in English. In France, French language documentation is required by law. Far worse: patients died from radiation overdoses administered by poorly informed technicians.
  4. 4. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity (“Always do X.” “Never do Y.”4 “Do Z, and you’re home free.”) Examples ● A European lens manufacturer How about this: “In every translation project, printed the English version of the buyer and the translation its annual report in full color with a typographical error on service provider (translator or the front cover: “Optical translation team) should agree in Products Worlwide”. The advance on a set of specifications company and the translation to be followed while carrying supplier each thought the other out the project.” was proofreading. The covers This statement is more were pulped and reprinted powerful than it might appear. (at considerable cost). It provides the basis for a ● An urgent one-page text universal definition: on innovative rail transport The quality of a translation was given to a specialized is the degree to which it follows translator with a note the agreed-upon specifications. specifying that it was for Simple but true. railway engineers. But a If you don’t identify what you reviewer thought it was for a want up front—or do identify it general audience and dumbed but those instructions don’t reach the translation down. Most the person doing the work, or of her “corrections” had to be aren’t understood by him or un-done (with the clock ticking her—you are unlikely to get a and the meter running). good translation. ● In 1917, 10,000 Canadian Patching up a poor translation soldiers were killed or wounded costs even more time and money, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in since it may also mean patching northern France. In April 2007, the prime ministers of Canada up your image and reputation if and France honored their you have inadvertently offended bravery at a local memorial. But (“I didn’t know X meant that in journalists revealed that Colombian Spanish!...”) or left historical panels nearby were readers grappling with an shot through with grammar and incomprehensible phrase. spelling errors; they had been Ask any translation service translated by well-meaning, provider, and you’ll get a raft of non-professional volunteers. examples of lost time and budget (Red faces all around.) due to crossed wires.
  5. 5. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity Failed translation projects are as guarantee that someone candifferent as frogs and falcons, but translate well between them. 5they have one thing in common: Note, too, that expertise counts:time, money and frustration could translators are nothave been saved if both sides had interchangeable.agreed in advance who did what, ■ Come to an agreement on your 2when and how. If they had drawn project specifications beforeup a set of specifications. translation begins (CEN 3.4 and 4.4; ASTM 4.3 and 8). The EuropeanStandards to standard requires that a qualitythe rescue management system be in place,By now, you might be thinking: and the American standardThis specifications thing sounds provides a quality managementimportant but it also sounds like a system based on a standard list oflot of work. How do I know I have questions (called “parameters”).a full set of specifications? How Your project-specific answers arecan I get through the specifications your specifications.phase as quickly as possible? ■ Follow the specifications at 3 This is where translation every step of the project.standards come in. We will referto two standards here: the Don’t reinventEuropean translation standard (CEN the wheelEN 15038) and the American The European and Americantranslation standard (ASTM F 2575). standards let you draw onAlthough they were developed hundreds of hours of input byindependently, they fit together experts distilling their knowledgevery well—much like building of best practices in translation. Bycodes and blueprints when you are underscoring the many factors tobuilding a home. consider besides price, they are There are three key points in also a reminder that translation iseach of these standards: anything but a commodity.■ Select your human resources 1with care (CEN 3.2; ASTM 6)— Q: Who comes up withtranslators must of course know the specifications for theboth the source and target translation project?languages, but (and this comes as A: Everyone involved: thea surprise to many people) buyer and the translation provider.knowing two languages does not The buyer starts by identifying
  6. 6. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodity the one starting point that Deadline ■ 36 everyone intuitively agrees is Price ■4 essential: What is the language of Subject area and type of text ■ 5 your text (the source language) Source language and regional and what language or languages variation ■ 6 do you want your text translated Format (word processing file? into (the target language)? XML?) ■ 7 The buyer then contacts one or Volume (how many words, more potential sellers who work characters, etc.) ■ 8 in the relevant language(s) about Target language and regional taking on the project. variation ■ 9 At this point, many buyers just That makes nine. toss the document to the seller For an even ten, we would add and cross their fingers, hoping identification of the steps ■ to be 10 that the translation that comes followed during the production back will meet their needs. Big phase, after analyzing the source mistake! This is the magic text. These steps are essentially moment, the time when the same in both the American specifications should be worked and European standards. out interactively between buyer Here are the most basic ones: and seller. If you wait until translation, bilingual checking, delivery to discover and monolingual checking. you were not on the same An absolutely critical part of wave-length, it will cost you this tenth specification is to time, money, and energy to identify who is responsible for make things right. each step of the production phase, But enough about how and to define the specialized important specifications are. know-how of each person (for It’s time for another list. example, subject-matter expertise). If any basic step is Top Ten going to be skipped, that should The bare-bones specifications be noted, and a reason given. from which many others are (In the “optical products” derived are the audience ■ and 1 example above, if the purpose ■ of the translation. 2 specifications had indicated who Besides these, the most was responsible for proofreading, basic specifications are also the reports would not have had to the best known: be reprinted.)
  7. 7. Translation: Standards for buying a non-commodityStandards maketranslation a manageable How to get 7non-commodity. the standards We’re convinced that standards The European standardwill help you get the translation To find out more about theyou need — or, if you are a European standard, see:translation provider, help you http://www.cen.eu/cenorm/deliver what your client wants aboutus/index.aspand needs. To obtain a copy of the We hope, too, that this brochure European standard, contacthas given you an idea of how the standards body in one ofto get started. the 27 European countries As we’ve seen, translation is that belong to CEN:not a commodity, which means http://www.cen.eu/cenorm/that using price as your sole members/members/index.aspcriterion in selecting a supplier (search for EN 15038)is a bad idea (maybe even a verybad idea). The American standard Standards will help you get a To find out more about thegrip on quality and get all American standard orstakeholders — buyers, project to obtain a copy of it, see:managers and individual http://www.astm.orgtranslators — speaking the same (search for F 2575)language. Delving deeper If you’ve got this far, you are obviously thinking seriously about trying out a specifications-based approach. So what comes next? We suggest as the first option: - use the “Top Ten” on page six for your next job - try out the more detailed list of translation parameters found at www.ttt.org/specs - buy the standards (you can implement them yourself or hire a language consultant familiar with them to help you).
  8. 8. TranslationBuying a non-commodityHow translation standardscan help buyers & sellers© Durban & Melby 2007 version 1.0

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