How to Tackle a Translation

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Translator's job

Do your best the first time. Do not count on the reviewer to do your work for you (at least not now!). Remember that if your translation is poor, they will send it back and that will mean more work for both of you.

Your most important job as a translator is to accurately express thoughts of the speaker. You should try to convey their style and personality. You also need to make sure:

  • the meaning is clear
  • the subtitles sound natural in your language
  • every line is short enough and can be read easily

Do not rush! Translation of a 15 minute talk can easily take several hours. You need to think about every single line.

Always keep in my mind your audience and the time they will spend watching the video. You want to provide them with a great experience!

Once you are done, wait for feedback from your reviewer. Discuss the necessary changes. Be open to suggestions for improvement. Take pride in your work. Both of you are going to be credited for the translation, so both of you need to feel good about it.

Recommended workflow

  1. Watch the talk to understand it thoroughly. If you do not understand something, do some research. You may consult other translators.
  2. While translating keep asking yourself: Does it convey the meaning? Does it sound natural? Is it short enough?
  3. Watch the talk and pause every time something looks strange or you don't manage to read the subtitles in the time given. Fix and shorten. See this article for tips on compressing subtitles.
  4. Read your compleated translation again the next day with a fresh mind and do a sweep for common mistakes.
  5. Watch the talk without sound, only with subtitles on - if it's good, you can accept it :)

Avoid common mistakes

1. Spelling- (Install a spell checker for your browser, or if you have one, install a spelling dictionary for your language

2. Line length - When you are done watch the talk without sound. This will force you to focus on reading and seeing how fast you can read. If you fail to read a line twice, you should shorten it (another tip: make sure you can read the line and still have time to look at the video). This is very important because your viewers do not know the talk as well as you do. That means they will need more time to read the subtitles than you do. :)

Ways to shorten lines:

a) Remove meaningless words, for example: Err, Well, very, Anyway,...

b) Remove repetitions. If something is obvious from the context then there is no need to say it.

c) Break the lines differently: move part of a meaning to the next or previous line, if it is shorter.

d) Compress two lines into one and double it. In TED player similar lines show without blinking.

e) Use synonyms; find words that are shorter or more common (easier to process).

More tips here.

3. Literal translation - Ask yourself: "Would a native speaker say it like you just wrote it?" "Does it sound natural?" Make sure you do not "copy" English word for word.

4. Lack of clarity - Think: What does the speaker mean? Is the message clear? Could I explain it myself?

5. Line breaks - Learn how to break lines here. Rule of thumb: If a line could be used as an answer to a question on its own, it is good;if there is an element which does not fit, it should be moved.

6. Language specific errors - Navigate to your language in the sidebar of this page and see if there is a list of common errors available.

7. Punctuation - Learn (and follow!) your language-specific punctuation rules. (Do not blindly copy English punctuation).

8. Specialized vocabulary - Do your research. Proper names are rarely translated in a straightforward way. The easiest way to do it is to check the term in English Wikipedia and then navigate to your language. You can also try the KudoZ term archive, and ask a new question if you can't find anything in the available answers. Also remember that proper names (of people or places) may not be spelled the same way in your language as they are in English (for example, Istanbul in English, but Estambul in Spanish). To learn more about searching for terms, watch this video

9. Units of measurement - Convert them to the ones most commonly used in your language, for example. miles to kilometers.

10. Culture specific items - Jokes, names of products, companies, famous people etc. need to be brought into familiar context for your audience. You might provide a brief explanation ("Mr. X, a businessman", rather than "Mr X"), or replace the name with a category ("fast food chain" instead of "Wendy's" ). Ideally, jokes and puns should still be funny, even if you have to alter them a bit; you do not want you audience to be lost, while everybody else is laughing.