How to achieve a high quality translation?

We always hear ‘I want a professional translation’ and ‘This translation is not good enough’ but we don’t always know what that means and why ‘our’ translation is not ‘professional’.

I will therefore try to explain what the difference is and to teach you how to do a good translation.

First of all, when given a text to translate, we must ask ourselves ‘what is the purpose of this translation?’. Translations are often required for different purposes and thus knowing exactly why the translation is needed, is the first step to achieving a high quality translation. This is because the choice of tone and vocabulary used in a translation depends very much on the purpose that the translation serves. For example, a translation may be required to explain the importance of eating fruits and vegetables to children and a translation of the SAME text may be required to explain the need of fruits and vegetables for a healthy digestion to nutritionists. Obviously, the two texts will be very different to each other because the first one will be written in an easy to understand and possibly interactive way as the target users are children. The second translation will most likely contain highly technical terms in order to serve its purpose of scientific text for target users who are experienced and highly skilled in the field of nutrition.

So, after having established the purpose of the text, the end users of the translation must be determined, as in the example above. Further on, we must ask ourselves what the type of the text is, i.e. highly explicative, informational or descriptive. Based on the type of text, we may need to make sure that a highly descriptive text remains highly descriptive and no descriptive words, usually adjectives, are lost. If a descriptive text required an explicative translation, the adjectives will be replaced by verbs and nouns employed to achieve a clear explanation of the text.

The next step before beginning to actually translate the text, is to ensure that a complete comprehension of the text is achieved. Thus, reading the entire text to be translated is absolutely necessary. It is only by reading the entire text that the tone which the author of the text used can be identified and an understanding of the text is achieved. In the case of novels or books, establishing good empathy with the author is also required. This is important because if the translator does not fully understand the tone and the specific way of writing of an author, then it is highly likely that some of the intended meaning or stylistic effects employed by the author will be lost in translation. This is generally why a book written in the language of the author is always better than the translated version.

By reading the entire text before translating we can also ensure we fully understand it and we know what needs translating and how that will be achieved.

Then, divide the text, make sure you know where the introduction ends and where the conclusion begins. Make notes on the text, do everything you may need in order to help you better understand the text. ‘Know’ the text!

Finally, we can begin to translate. But there is one final tip: always do a draft translation which can be worked on and improved on once the entire text has been translated. If we go about having a ‘perfect’ translation from the moment we begin, we will stumble and translating will take ages as we will never be able to reach a decision on the usage of words. Even if we do, once we have gone through most of the text, we may realize we have completely changed the writing style which we began with.

Therefore, if we have a draft translation of the entire text, we can take a break and always come back to ‘polish’ the work.

And, as a piece of advice, once a polished version of the translation is achieved, do not leave it gather dust on your desk, until the handing in deadline. It always helps to go back and read it, WITHOUT looking at the original, as if it were a text written in the language you translated in. You will be surprised to see how many things will sound ‘unnatural’! This happens because when we translate and we have understood so well the original, we are still under the ‘wing’ of the language from which we are translating and we unwillingly and unconsciously ‘foreignize’ (just came up with this word) our native language.

So, do go back to re-re-re-re-re-read your work and make further improvements.


Hope this helped all of you translators out there and… happy translating!

Any questions are welcome.


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2 Responses


Thank you Ralu.You are a good teacher.


Thank you Gabriela. I always try to do my best :)

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