Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Foundations of Translation - Lesson 5

(These are the notes for a course on Foundations of Translation I taught at the University College of the University of Denver. A short description of the course cam be found here).

Translation Quality, Ethics and Final Test

Translation Quality

Translation Quality Control

    (Procedures to improve the quality of translation during the translation process)
  • Quality of the source language
  • Instructions
  • Style guides
  • Project glossaries

Translation Quality Assessment

Pitfalls for beginning translators

  • Knowling the language is not enough
  • Undertranslation/Overtranslation
    • Undertranslation
      • Improper terminology
      • Using a style that adheres too closely to the original text
      • Ignores idiomatic or cultural usage
    • Overtranslation
      • Tends to read fluently
      • May appear masterful
      • Questionable accuracy
        (See "The Translator's Tightrope: Recognizing and Avoiding Overtranslation", by John Rock, ATA Chronicle, June 2006)

Translation Ethics

Narrow (traditional) definition

  • Unethical to [willfully] distort the meaning of the SL text
  • What about when this is required by the customer?
  • What about when he/she is asked to translate something he or she finds offensive?
    • e.g. Translation of pornography
    • Translation of racist texts
  • What about if it is for a "good" purpose (e.g., in a trial)?

Responsibilities of the translator (discussion)


Class exercise: project managing a translation

Suggestion on how to improve one's vocabulary


    Provide your own answers to the following questions:
  1. What's the difference between translation and interpreting?
  2. What kind of jobs are open to translators?
  3. In your opinion, for a professional translator, do language skills count more than subject-matter knowledge, or less? Explain the reasons for your choice.
  4. Provide a description of a translation workflow, including steps to be performed before the actual translation, and after it.
  5. What kind of knowledge is important for a translator to have, and why?
  6. If you were to work as a translation project manager, what steps would you perform in order to ensure that the work you receive is of good quality?
  7. List a few types of translation errors, and what you would do in order to avoid them in your own work.
  8. In Lesson 5 we briefly discussed some ethical problems a translator might encounter. Can you think of other ethical or moral problems we may have to tackle as translators? Please, briefly describe them.

Course evaluation

Notes from the previous lessons in this course:

Foundations of Translation - Course Description
Foundations of Translation - Lesson 1: Difference between translation and interpreting
Foundations of Translation - Lesson 2: Jobs for translators
Foundations of Translation - Lesson 3: Characteristics of a good translator
Foundations of Translation - Lesson 4: Translation in Practice


  1. Your blog is very informative. I am glad to had come across your blog. I am just starting classes in this field and to read other people's work is inspirational.


  2. Greetings from an Italian, future translator. Hopefully. I have only now discovered this blog and I must say I find it extremely interesting, though I can't deny that I am probably biased, given my line of study :). However, it would be nice if you could give me an opinion about something I've been thinking of all day long. It will probably sound like a trivial question, but I'd like to know this. How can a professor mark a translation by objective criteria? Is it even possible?


  3. Hi Fabio,

    You can find a lot of material on objective criteria for translation quality evaluation in my other bog (Translation Quality Blog: http://translationquality.blogspot.com/), as well as in www.TranslationQuality.com, a site we set up to gather material on translation quality and translation quality assessment.

    The general idea is to concentrate more on the errors contained in the translation: formal errors, such as errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, etc., as well as errors of meaning, over- and undertranslations, etc.

    That may not capture everything (you could have an error-free translation that, nonetheless, is stilted and reads badly), but goes a long way towards a more objective evaluation of translation quality.


Thank you for your comment!

Unfortunately, comment spam has grown to the point that all comments need to be moderated. All legitimate comments will be published as soon as possible.