Checking and editing an existing translation to improve it
Translation is one of the few professions in which the resulting work product is routinely submitted to another member for verification (a process that is actually given mention in an ISO standard for language service providers). However, the very concepts of editing and proofreading are sometimes strangely misinterpreted even by knowledgeable individuals, leading to confusion about the role of the editor and creating a potentially damaging situation for the translator.
Introduction to editing and proofreading
According to ISO standards, a translation should go through four distinct stages:
VERIFICATION: checking the fundamental accuracy of the translation. Since this is part of the translator’s job, verification is not something which needs to be expressly requested.
EDITING: A professional editor (not the original translator) reviews the translation for errors, consistent use of terminology, and register.
SPECIALIST EDITING: If necessary, an editor qualified in the specific field of the translation examines the revised translation. This is a bilingual review to assess the suitability of the translation for the stated purpose and target audience.
PROOFREADING: A final check before publication to ensure that all errors have been eliminated and that new ones have not been introduced during the layout phase.
This doesn’t mean that every translation must necessarily go through stages 2, 3, and 4. Suffice it to say that it depends on the particular problems that arise from errors in the original translation.
As the primary link in the transactional chain, translators should use any means available to thoroughly check each translation before delivery.
Such a check is not always sufficient, though. In practice, the more critical eye of a second person (e.g. a linguist dedicated to editing or another translator) can detect the smallest of errors that manage to slip past the repeated checks of the translator. In other words, translators acting as reviewers possess a special knack for discovering the mistakes of others, although they may still fail to notice their own.
A generalist translator who is only qualified from a linguistic standpoint may face difficulties with certain specialized texts and therefore end up translating with an excess of creativity and guesswork; in such cases, specialized translators may be preferable due to their expertise in the subject matter, even if they lack extensive vocabularies or perfect writing skills. Texts produced by such translators may then be reviewed by a professional editor to render them more readable.
In most cases, a few translation errors do not adversely affect the content’s usability or lead to accidents or legal troubles. But sometimes these are very real risks, making it prudent to have the translation checked by another professional to avoid situations where a serious mistake may result in injury or death—or simply damage the reputation of the client. Such checks are necessary because translators are only human and mistakes will happen occasionally, although it is important to note that editors are not infallible, either.
We can serve as translators or reviewers. When translating, we deal with phase 1 (verification); when asked to review a translation, we handle either phase 2 (editing) or 4 (proofreading) or both, depending on the instructions given to us.
We provide editing and proofreading services exclusively in the following language pairs:
- Italian → Japanese
- Japanese → Italian
- English → Italian
- English → Japanese
With all that said, it is important to fully understand the differences between editing and proofreading. Despite the fact that many professionals and translation companies use the terms interchangeably, they are not the same thing.
What is editing?
Also referred to as a bilingual check (or even “cross check” or “native check” in Japan), this process aims to correct and improve an existing translation by comparing it to the source text. Clients typically request editing to ensure that a translation correctly reflects the source content, especially in cases where inaccuracies, improper register, or a general unsuitability for the target audience could cause serious health and safety problems or otherwise reflect poorly on the client.
Consequently, editors must be very well versed in both the source and target languages and have access to the source text.
In general, editing should be entrusted to a professional translator or to an editor who is a native speaker of the target language. With highly specialized texts that require the use of a particular terminology that can not be easily learned, however, it may be better to hire a native speaker of the source language who has a firm grasp of the specific concepts that appear in the translation. A proofreader can then be hired to check the text prior to publication.
Editors should have a mastery of three things: the source language, the target language, and the subject matter of the text. Such an editor will be able to show the original translator ways to improve, and thus in theory serves as a sort of teacher—which implies of course that the editor is more skilled than the translator. But this happens less than it should.
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
Writer, aphorist and poet
Editing jobs require:
- An editor who is very familiar with the subject matter
- An editor who is a native speaker of the target language but has also mastered the source language
Editing fees should be calculated based on the actual time spent, which can be even longer than was needed for the translation itself. This is because the editor is forced to work within a template that has already been defined by the translator, and this can end up being more of a hindrance than a useful reference.
What is proofreading?
Proofreading is a post-editing phase in which the translation is checked for correctness as a monolingual text. It does not involve the verification of terminology.
This means that the proofreader’s mastery of the subject matter and source language is irrelevant. In general, the time required to proofread a text is directly proportional to the number of words that it contains, hence proofreading services are usually based on word count.
But clients often request proofreading for texts which really need a full editing pass first, a misunderstanding (unacceptable from translation companies. By the way, we also have a page dedicated to translation companies) perpetuated by the lexical confusion between editing and proofreading.
The reality is that translations produced by non-native speakers of the target language—a very frequent phenomenon—almost always contain far too many grammatical and syntax errors in addition to a writing style that necessitates a complete overhaul, or even a new translation.
Proofreading jobs require:
- A proofreader who is a native speaker of the target language
The use and abuse of editing
Translation is a highly creative profession and translators possess varying levels of creativity.
Distinctive writing styles may be used to create variations of a translation that are all fundamentally correct. Ask ten professionals to translate the same lengthy and complex text, for example, and you are likely to get ten different yet accurate results. If those ten translations are then sent to ten different editors, ten new versions of the translation will be produced, meaning that you will have your choice of twenty unique variations on the same source text! But which is the "best" translation?
The above example demonstrates the need for clients to clearly define the editorial scope. Doing so will prevent the editor’s ego or desire to self-promote (deliberately damaging the original translator) from compromising a translation which might already be perfectly usable.
Editors should ideally refrain from correcting a translation directly, instead leaving that task to the original translator and respect his/her right of objection. This unfortunately does not always happen; a client will usually adopt the new version under the assumption that its revision by another professional (not to mention the additional money spent) guarantees its accuracy, or because merely proposing corrections instead of making them will confuse the original translator or take too much time.
In any case, end clients are seldom capable of or willing to evaluate a translation themselves, particularly when they don’t understand the languages involved (which is quite often the case with Japanese). Haphazard editing can easily ruin a good translation and causing a waste of money and the original translation discarded because of the failure to evaluate him/her properly, which is precisely why he/she should always be made aware of any corrections made.
SPECIAL CONDITIONS FOR TRANSLATION COMPANIES
Please contact us.
|Editing||USD 40 / Hour|
|Proofreading||USD 8 / page|
- These rates are updated periodically to reflect changes in the JPY/USD exchange rate.
- "Page" means 200 Italian or English words or 400 Japanese characters
- The minimum rate per job for direct clients is USD 40.
- Unless different terms are agreed upon in advance, all payments are due within 30 days of the invoice date. (Private individuals must make their payments before translation work begins)
- Payment method: PayPal or credit card via the free PayPal service (account registration not required).
Please contact us for more information or to request a proofreading or editing job.
Remarks on editing rates
Inexperienced or unqualified translators often appear as an economical choice to clients because they provide their services at such low rates. But when the resulting translation is fundamentally flawed or unsuitable for its target audience, lacks lexical breadth, has been done too literally, makes insufficient use of synonyms, or lacks fluidity, the client should accept the fact that the cost of its review can equal or even exceed that of the translation itself.
Reworking an existing translation often takes more time than retranslating from scratch since the editor is required to work within a framework that has already been predefined in some way, to maneuver carefully so that the correct portions remain intact, to adopt the original translator's mindset, and to some extent emulate the existing writing style. In other words, this process is much more mentally taxing on the editor and, paradoxically, increases the risk of introducing new errors.
There is no way to determine how long an editing job will take without examining the translation first. A rather common yet inexplicable notion is that the price of a review should be a fixed percentage (typically around 50%) of that spent on the translation. This doesn’t work in practice because there is no real way to calculate a priori how many hours of work will be required without seeing the actual text.
In fact, the risk would be not only on the editor side because by failing to quantify his/her economic remuneration he/her would not earn enough with respect to the time actually spent, but to the entire value chain too because by feeling forced to work fast and without the necessary commitment precisely because of the low editing rate accepted he/she would not carry out honestly the task received: improving the translation instead of worsening it.