4 January 2018

Quality of translated texts, who and how does it assess?

A highly qualified translator is able, as a rule, to assess what kind of translation he/she has succeeded in and what kind hasn’t. But most of the translators are not very self-critical, they simply don’t often have sufficient level of persistent practice in a foreign language in order to assess adequately the weaknesses and strengths of their own translation.

In any case, the customer and the consumer usually play roles of the chief justices. And this is not always the same person. It is almost impossible to make a perfect translation: any, even the best translation, is always vulnerable. Because the most important task of a translator-philologist is to anticipate wishes of the customer, based on minimal information, and to make the text of his/her translation as close as possible to the text, which could be written by a native speaker, who is the specialist in this particular field. And here we speak not about some abstract uncle, but namely about that particular engineer or economist who will read this translation.

I do not consider here the translations performed by technicians without language education. They have an undoubted advantage in translating of separate terms and complicated technical content in comparison with the translator-philologist. But the competence of these translators is usually, with a rare exception, is limited to a single, very narrow special area. If they step aside a little to the left or to the right, it often turns out that they are at a disadvantage over a qualified and experienced translator-philologist both in the philological sense of the text peculiarities, and directly in the translation of terms. They translate slowly, are tied to variants that they find in glossaries, and where something is misunderstood, they give rein to their imagination

In my opinion, everyone should deal with his/her own business. I have managed to translate thousands of pages of the most sophisticated general technical, construction, financial, medical and other highly specialized texts from German into Russian and from Russian into German for more than 30 years of persistent work. But I will never pretend to work as a professional civil engineer, an international lawyer or a doctor. I will not venture to build a high-rise building, make an annual balance sheet of company or perform a surgery. Professional translation and scientific and technical information are different scopes of activity.

But let us return to the quality of translations. First of all, the customer assesses translation. There is always a lot of subjective in evaluating translations, as well as in evaluating anything in any other field. Therefore, the best translator is your own translator: the one you know and trust. The translator, who knows not only your requirements, but also the specifics of this particular enterprise.

It is a great benefit for translators working with customers not directly, but through intermediaries that they almost never communicate with consumers of their translations, and they rarely get any comments. You can work this way for 20-30 years without getting a single comment. But it's bad that as a result, the quality of the performed translations stagnates at a basic level and does not develop. The translation is as good as it was translated. But you can achieve perfection only when you get sensible comments and when you see your blunders and omissions

It takes a lot of efforts, in fact, to assess the quality of the translation. That is why it rarely happens. The evaluator should ideally know not only a relevant area for an adequate assessment and the source language, but also should have some idea of ​​the specifics of translation activity. If you approach to the evaluation of the quality of translations scientifically, you can try to build a system of clear evaluation criteria. But this is, unlikely, to be of practical importance for real translation activities and corporate practice.

In this sense, based on personal translation experience, I have to state:

- quality of the performed translation is rarely evaluated reliably and comprehensively;

- evaluation of the quality of translation in the vast majority of cases is rather subjective;

- in the pair “price-quality”, customers usually prefer a lower price, and quality usually go into the background.

The quality of interpretation is a separate topic.

Yury Novikov,

certified translator from German and English,

Member of the Board of the Union of Russian Translators


A.V. Pavlova (University of Mainz, Germany). Translation quality assessment (pdf file)

"Despite the rapid development of translation studies, there is still no universally accepted list of criteria that makes it possible to evaluate the product of translation activity (translate) that is weighted and free of subjective components.

... making judgments about the quality of the translation is the result of a sophisticated and complex process that usually requires two evaluations: on the one hand, the result of the translation must be compared with the source text or with the requirements of the order; on the other hand, it is necessary to assess the degree of freedom that the translator had when making a decision".

"Evaluation of translation is always subjective by its nature, because it depends on the views, habits, preferences, tastes and even the character of the evaluator".


"... the more a translator is confident in his abilities, the more unconstrained creative decisions he accepts that enrich and adorn the translated text".