9th October, 2017

Tips from the professionals: The secrets to good translation

This week, we grabbed a few rare spare moments from some of our translating team and asked for their wisdom on what they do: the art and purpose of translation, how to actually go about translating a piece, any tips for clients seeking translation services, and more. Read on for their thoughts and advice!


“As with writing, the more knowledgeable you are about a piece of material, the better—and faster—you can translate it, so getting the right translator for the job is crucial”

Lead Chinese Editor

“There are a few key things I think people should know about translation,” says Alvin. “Firstly, ‘translating’ and ‘interpreting’ are two different things. Translation is strictly on paper, while interpreting is done orally—hence the oft-used term ‘conference interpreting’. Here we have translators, but not interpreters; I find that this is often misunderstood, especially in Hong Kong.”

“Translation is always about ‘equivalence’,” he adds, “meaning the translated copy—or ‘target text’ in translator’s lingo—should always in some way be ‘equal’ to the original provided—the ‘source text’. How and in what way that equivalence is achieved can vary widely; on one end of the spectrum you have advertising translation, which is more like rewriting (think translation of an advert slogan). Moving further to the middle, you have translation of corporate material (press releases, annual reports), which are more of a balance between accuracy and fluency. Translation of contracts, insurance policies and terms and conditions are more word-for-word—trading readability for accuracy.”

“As with writing, translation requires a certain knowledge of the subject matter in order to do it well. Some of this is achieved through exposure, but most is just about doing research and reading extensively. And, again like writing, the more knowledgeable you are in one field, the better—and faster—you can translate, so getting the right translator for the job is crucial.”

“Make good use of the apps available to you, to ensure you get the context right”

Chinese Editor

“I like to use websites and apps to help with my translation—one example is,” adds Alex. Linguee is a type of interactive and user-led online dictionary; the user begins typing a word and numerous suggestions pop up, including context, previous translations by others, example usage, synonyms, and more. “It’s really useful because every word you look up comes with examples from a wide variety of trusted sources. You can use those examples to check whether or not you have the context right, and tweak it to make it more accurate and clear. Even better: it’s available as a mobile app!”

“Words keep changing. Nowadays, being a translator means you have to be informative and resourceful”

Chinese Editor

“I use the whole internet for reference,” she says. “I advise that if you come across something you’re not 100% sure about, Google it! Read as much reference material as you can—as much as time allows. Words keep changing. Don’t rely on one or even two dictionaries. The internet has pretty much everything you need—but, unfortunately, it’s also full of false and inaccurate information. It’s important to sift through and choose what’s correct. I cross-check any and all terms and information I get from the internet and online dictionaries to ensure they’re correct and fit for use. Nowadays, being a translator means you have to be informative and resourceful.”

“One key trick or tool is to keep a good translation glossary for each client,” she adds. “Our Chinese team does this! It helps us to align our phrasing and terminology. We research before creating a new glossary, and update it continually—especially when we get feedback or comments from a client. It’s a thorough task because before you add a certain word to the glossary, you need to confirm that it’s correct and up-to-date, as I mentioned before, so it’s a good example of how we’d go about doing our research.”

Do you have any tips to add? We’d love to hear them—do leave them in the comments, or feel free to get in touch.

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