THE PRE-TRANSLATION PROCESS – what is it and why is it useful?

By: Meryl Hanmer

There is a lot more to translation than meets the eye. The essence of the translation process is to transform a piece of text from one language, the source language (SL), into another, the target language (TL). However, there is far more to consider than many people realise: there is so much to contemplate and decide before the actual ‘translation process’ can begin.

There is an entire process to consider first. With multiple factors to contemplate and points to clarify, the following pre-translation steps are essential for ensuring a smooth translation process, avoiding delays and producing an accurate end result.

Read the whole ST through

Although seemingly obvious, this is a step that is often skipped either due to laziness or over-eagerness to start translating. Without reading the entire text through first, it would be all too easy to misinterpret the meaning in the beginning and thus make inaccurate translations. To fully understand and grasp the significance of what is written, you need to first asses the text as one whole entity before breaking it down into smaller portions.

Do your research

Having the ability to speak two languages does not mean the translator can understand everything in either language, even their native language. English is my native language, yet if I was given a medical document to read in English, I know there is a high probability that I would fail to understand everything because I have no complex understanding of medical terms. Therefore, if given a text to translate on a subject which you are not an expert in, it is crucial to conduct thorough research of the domain and any complex terms. Failure to do this would result in inaccurate work.

Who and what is the text for?

Rarely is the target audience (TA) of the target text (TT) the same as that of the source text (ST). There are nearly always differences between them, such as a different culture, age or level of domain knowledge. Depending on the differences of the TA, the translator will then have to adjust and be mindful of the register, tone and complexity of the text. Equally so these things will also need to be considered when assessing the purposes of the TT. If the translated text will be used for a purpose different from that of the original text, it again may be necessary to adjust the text’s register, tone or complexity.

Assess what changes to make

Now, based on the research carried out and on the text assessment the translator can be clear on what strategy to take when translating. Understanding the changes that need to be made helps to construct a consistent and focused final translation.

Now we translate!

Only after all these stages have been thoroughly conducted can the translator begin the process of translating the text. Having a meticulous pre-translation ritual prepares the translator for any potential difficulties and ensures the best possible quality result.

Look out for a future post in which I will be discussing the post-translation process.


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