Some thoughts on translation and proofreading

This came up in my Twitter feed today and made me smile.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a post on proofreading for a while now. There’s often a translating/proofreading/language-editing project in the works, so it feels like a highly relevant topic.

I’m not a trained proofreader/language-editor, by which I mean this isn’t something I have a degree or any formal certificates in. The English lit program at the university I went to now offers courses in translation; i.e., you can opt for a graduate program in translation, which I suppose would have constituted formal training, only it wasn’t available in my university days.

I got into it because people would ask me to translate/proofread something and it was a way to augment the budget, always an appealing idea but especially when you’re a student. I sometimes do translations into Croatian (I never proofread texts in Croatian) but it’s way more often translations into English and/or proofreading/language-editing texts in English. This may be somewhat unusual for NNSs in some places, but it isn’t all that unusual in Croatia (see a not-so-recent post on how this is valid for ELT as well – some excellent comments there).

I’ve never advertised this service. Some of the work I ended up with as a result of Octopus advertising (although most of our business was corporate language training), but in this case clients wouldn’t ask for me specifically. The other projects came about thanks to recommendations, either by clients or colleagues. I’m not kidding myself; if this was something I were doing for a living, I’d definitely have to advertise, but as a side gig it works pretty well.

When I was younger – yeah, I know this makes me sound 95 – there was a fundamental difference to how I approached the job: I didn’t communicate with the client beyond agreeing on the essentials (rate, deadline) and submitting the finished product. If a question came up as I read the text – and usually a lot of questions came up – I dealt with them as best I could. Again, when I was younger, dealing with translation issues as best you could was often not very good at all because of the scarcity (and cost) of reference materials and scarcity (perhaps total absence?) of professional communities one could easily join. There was no internet in any meaningful sense and I recall handing in a very early translation (for someone working in a bank) written out by hand.

Things changed gradually and these days when I translate/proofread/language-edit I talk to the client. There’s rarely a text I don’t add comments to, asking for help in figuring out what the author meant to say or suggesting an alternative, if I think I’ve understood what the author meant but am not absolutely sure, so I don’t feel comfortable amending the text directly. Sometimes the author writes back, so we actually exchange thoughts. More often the author can figure out – I assume – what to change by themselves on the basis of my comment.

February 10 – Ok, so today in the opening sentence was about three weeks ago. It takes me ages to get around to posting something. What else is new?

Let’s see if I can pick up where I left off. I don’t know how quick other translators/proofreaders are – I think I’m fairly slow. Thorough sounds better. I did have a couple of courses on translation at university and they taught us I learned that the idea is to convey the author’s idea sticking as close as possible to the source text, yet phrasing it as naturally as possible in the target language. In practice, this means I am loath to leave anything out, which can be a problem if the author is a tad verbose. I would like to cut (what I feel is) unnecessary text, but I don’t think this is my place. I will recommend the author do that though, if I feel that it would benefit the reader.

I can’t say that all my translation or proofreading gigs have been interesting – that would simply be untrue – but overall I enjoy this kind of work and feel I’ve learned something about topics I might otherwise have remained largely (and on occasion blissfully) ignorant of. For instance, weather and climate, architecture, public administration, Croatian history, online learning, presenting sales plans and results, etc.

When I started this post I thought I might describe the proofreading process and what resources I use, but now I feel this would probably best be left for another post.

I’m curious as to how many other teachers do this kind of work? In Croatia it’s pretty common, or so I used to think. Now my impression is that it may not be as common as (I thought) before. This could at least in part be due to the feeling I have, as a member of both teaching and translation online communities, that there is a clear distinction between the two professions. Although… if I had to commit to an observation, it would be that language teachers are more often asked to proofread/translate than translators are asked to teach a language class. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

How do you feel about teachers translating/proofreading/language-editing texts? Are they qualified to do this simply by virtue of being teachers (speakers of other languages in the case of translation/language-editing)? And finally, if you know of a MOOC that deals with this area, please let me know!

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on translation and proofreading

    1. Hi Sandy, thanks for reading and for the comment. In fact, you recommended Liz’s blog to me once before (when I wrote about transcribing interviews) and I found her posts on transcribing tremendously helpful. I’ve been following her since. 🙂 I hope you’re doing well!


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