TranslationBuying a non-commodityHow translation standardscan help buyers & sellers
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
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.
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.
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
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.)
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).