Academic Translation from Start to Finish

Translating can seem rather opaque. The author/client will often simply send a file and receive a translated version back. Even with a decent level of language proficiency, it can be difficult to gauge whether a translation into a foreign language is average, good or excellent. In today’s blog, I seek to demystify this process. I do so by discussing the “workflow” I use for academic translation when dealing with direct clients. Translation agencies may divide the tasks up differently.

Understanding authorial style is key to academic translation in the social sciences and humanities. This is because there is more diversity in writing styles than in, say, legal translation. These styles are often intimately tied up with the arguments that authors wish to make and they often link to wider intellectual schools and projects too. Special attention must therefore be paid to accurately translating not only concepts and ideas accurately, but also authorial style and voice.

In my experience, the best academic translations emerge from a direct collaboration with the author, in which there is space to discuss the interventions made to a text. This is because the author knows her style best and is often better versed in the relevant academic literature and jargon than the translator. If the translator has subject knowledge, this is a great help, but translation experience and training are also crucial.

What, then, do I do exactly?

Part 1 – translation

After I receive a text, I use translation software (SDL Trados) to work on the file (see below). This software breaks the text up into manageable segments. It also reformats the translated segments, so I don’t have to mess around with fonts, styles and footnotes in MS Word. I can also highlight specific jargon in the text. E.g. kulturni kapital (HR) – cultural capital (EN). This is then stored in a terminology database and suggested as an accurate translation next time I come across the same term. Note: the following screen shot is of a non-confidential translation.

Trados is also useful because it lets me store a databank of translated phrases: a translation memory. Translation memories are useful for academic translation but indispensable in legal and technical translation where there is even more repetition and an even greater need for conceptual precision.

If I am unsure of a word or phrase, I insert an author query, as the author often has a deeper knowledge, through reading in English, of subject-specific jargon and conventions. It is worth remembering that the translator’s knowledge and expertise is in language and general academic conventions, not in the minute details of each academic sub-discipline. This is why collaboration is so important! I base my schedule on (comfortably) translating 2000 words a day.

Part 2 – bilingual revision

After the first round is completed, I then crosscheck the translated segments in Trados with the original ones, correcting any errors. This is sometimes called translation revision. After the first round, some translated sentences are still ordered in a “Croatian” or “German” style. For example, quite a few Croatian sentences begin with the construction “Zbog toga” (lit. Because of that). This is comprehensible in English, but it sounds clumsy and unwieldy. While this is an obvious example, there are more subtle sentences that can pass through undetected. After this round, I send the text to the author to review. At this point, I stress that the author should focus on the precise translation of concepts, ideas and style: not on a literal, precise translation of every element in each sentence.

Part 3 – monolingual editing

Finally, assuming the text will be sent to a journal or academic publisher for preparation, after receiving the corrected text back from the author, I do a final edit (typically in MS Word) of the translated text for consistency and remaining syntax issues a week or more later. This break gives me a fresh view on the text. All the consistency issues that copyeditors focus on (e.g. -ize/-ise endings) can also be tackled at this stage. I use editing software: PerfectIt and The Editor’s Toolkit to ensure a high level of consistency. This is not achieved during the translation phase as it is impossible to focus on all the different levels of language at the same time. It can also be useful to have another round of copyediting/proofreading completed by someone else before final publication.