In our second guest blog post, we welcome back Avi Staiman, CEO of Academic Language Experts, to discuss how to identify an appropriate translator for your work.
If you would like to write a post about aspects of your work that would make an interesting read for our members, please get in touch.
Looking for an academic translator for your academic research can be a daunting task. Whether you are looking to translate your book in order to reach a new audience or want to publish your article in a journal which is not in your native language, it is critical to pick the right translator for your manuscript. Where to start? With all the options available, how do you pick the right one? The goal of this blog post is to present a series of criteria to help you narrow down your search for the perfect candidate for your project.
The first step in picking the best translator is finding someone who is highly proficient in both the source and target languages. Translators describe themselves in a variety of different ways which can be confusing so we will start by defining the most commonly used terms.
The importance of native language
It is rare but possible for a child to become fluent in more than one language if more than one language is spoken regularly and fluently in their surroundings, but after around the age of six, becoming fluent in a new language with all its nuances of syntax and tone becomes virtually impossible. Some children may grow up with multiple native languages but only ever use one of them at school or professionally—and therefore never develop the full vocabulary and range required to write well in the other languages. Other people may have no highly developed native language, either because they aren’t sufficiently exposed to language at a young age, or because they lost some proficiency in the intricacies of their native language as they transitioned into exclusive use of a second language.
In my experience, fluency and proficiency are insufficient for purposes of academic editing, translation or publication. Even if a translator can master the terminology and vocabulary of a second language, it is very difficult for people to free themselves entirely from the syntax of the language they think in. Even if your translator is fluent in the target language, if it is not his native language, he will likely bring over traces of his native language which will give him away as a non-native speaker and distract from the content of the writing. Thus, it is extremely rare for someone to be both a native speaker and a great writer in more than one language. Beware of translators offering translation services into multiple languages and be sure to ask them what their true native language is.
Look for a translator who is a native speaker of the target language
If you want your translated text to sound natural, you need a translator who is a native speaker, not just a “fluent” or “proficient” one. When looking for a translator, many people mistakenly believe that what they are looking for is a native speaker of the source language—and of course it is true that translators must be proficient in reading and understanding nuances in the languages from which they’re translating. However, the product of the translation is a text in the target language, not the source language, so it stands to reason that if you want an excellent translation in a specific genre, you need a translator who can write an excellent text in that genre in the target language.
This means that your translator must be a native speaker of the language in which the translation (not the source) is written and a skilled writer in that language. In fact, translators of a given language may be overly committed to being faithful to the source text, when what really matters is that the published text is clear and well written without the distraction of unnatural-sounding language. Most academic journals are looking for clear and coherent texts that stand on their own. You may also want to consider using a language editor to edit the work of the translator as we discussed in our previous post.
Look for a translator who is familiar with your field
Besides native-level speech and writing skills, it is also critical for your translator to be familiar with your field and its terminology. Even well-educated native speakers may have difficulty reading, let alone writing, technical articles if they’re not familiar with the field. Your translator doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in your exact field, but he or she needs to be familiar enough with writing in your field to know how to identify precedents—and where to look for them—to find out how terminology is used. It is a good idea for you to make sure the translator understands your use of key terminology at the outset; to this end you may choose to provide a set of terms and meanings or even a list of terms to avoid.
Ask for a phone interview
When looking for a translator, you can learn a lot from a phone interview. Listen for unnatural grammar or speech patterns. Ask what the translator’s top language is and what kinds of texts he or she has translated before. Don’t find out too late that you are the translator’s guinea pig to learn about your field! This would be a good time to ask what you can do to make the task smoother for the translator – can you provide a list of terms? A bibliography? Examples of similar texts?
Above all, you want to avoid having to subject your academic translation to further edits, which will almost certainly be required if the translator is not a native speaker, and which will likely lead either to further interruptions in tone and flow, or to what is essentially a full rewrite. A well-written article should return from peer review without major language comments and critique. Rather than rely on edits after the fact, make sure from the outset that your translator is a native speaker and an experienced writer familiar with your field.
Avi has worked as a translator and editor in various fields of humanities and social sciences, and is the founder of Academic Language Experts.
– Wednesday 22nd May, 2018 –
In our first EASE member guest post on our blog, Avi Staiman considers a question he is often posed as a language editor.
If you would like to write a post about an issue of your work that you think would make an interesting read for our members, please get in touch.
Here is Avi, with our debut guest post.
“You can translate and edit my text, right?”
Those of us who work as academic translators periodically receive questions like this from our clients (or, more often, imply that it is their expectation without actually saying it). Is there a concrete answer to this question? The short answer: it depends.
On the one hand, a qualified and experienced translator should be adept at crafting good text. A translator, after all, is a writer. She creates a new text in her native tongue, on the basis of a source text in a different language (in my opinion, academic translators should always translate into their native language). This new text should, of course, reflect the content of the original text accurately. But in its sentence structure, flow, syntax, and sometimes style, it is a wholly new creation.
Like any other good writer, a good translator should review and proofread her own work thoroughly and meticulously after ‘sleeping on it’. But scientific editing is a process that goes beyond proofing one’s own work. A second pair of eyes can notice many things undetected by the writer – typing errors, stylistic inconsistencies, redundancies or structural shortfalls.
Some translations do require editing in order to ensure accuracy and precision. Moreover, even the best translators, as they ‘think’ in two languages, inevitably leave occasional traces of the source language in their writing. Even an excellent translation can be further refined and polished. Indeed, famous authors, award-winning translators, and other literary giants have editors who play a crucial role in producing and polishing their work. Just as we would not expect an author to also edit his or her own book, so too, it seems reasonable that we should not expect a translator to be their own editor either.
So how do you know if you need an editor for your text? It all depends on your specific goals and context.
When do you need an editor?
When advising colleagues about whether to have a translation edited, I often suggest the following rule of thumb: If your manuscript is the type of text that you would have edited in its original, then you should probably have the translation edited as well. This is usually true even if the source text has already undergone editing itself, since the translation is a new creation.
Most academic books, journal articles, and literary works are edited at some point – even when they are written by eloquent, talented authors writing in their own language. A well-written article or book rendered into a new language by a top translator is just like any other piece of good writing – it is the most important step toward your goal, but it still needs to go through one more stage in order to cross the finish line.
When might you not need an editor?
The same rule of thumb applies in the other direction: If you would not use an editor for the type of text if it were written in your native language, a good translation of the same piece may also not require editing (even if it could still benefit from it).
When might this be the case? While there is no concrete rule, you might be able to get away without having a well-written text edited if it is not intended for publication. For example, texts intended for private communication; translated abstracts; lecture notes; and other materials intended primarily for transmitting information.
Similarly, if you are submitting your work to a publisher or journal with their own in-house editors, you might not need to find an editor yourself.
Finally, you may not want an editor in cases where it is critical that the translation be as literal a reflection of the original as possible – such as a questionnaire.
Of course, in these cases, too, the text should still be as polished as possible. You must be sure that your translator is a dependably excellent writer in the target language (and, if not – find a different translator!).
The bottom line
While it is reasonable to expect a translator to review, edit and proofread their own work, don’t expect a translator to be able to play the full roles of both translator and editor. In some cases, it may not be critical to have an editor and professional translation may suffice. However, any text intended for publication should be translated and edited before it is submitted for publication. Also, don’t be short-sighted. You may only be working on a draft for a limited audience now (such as a doctoral thesis), but if you plan to use the text in a published paper later, it may still be worth investing in editing.
Avi has worked as a translator and editor in various fields of humanities and social sciences, and is the founder of Academic Language Experts.
– Tuesday 20th March, 2018 –
We have added the first full session abstract and speaker bio to our conference pages!
This honour falls to Maria del Carmen Ruiz-Alcocer, and her session addressing Challenges of publishing in languages other than English.
We will be adding more full pages of information for each session over the coming months. Each full abstract will be linked to from the conference programme in its’ own page. Maria’s session is here, or you can read it in full, below.
14th EASE Conference, Bucharest 2018
Saturday 9th June: 14.00 – 15.00
Plenary Lecture 3
Challenges of publishing in languages other than English
Maria del Carmen Ruiz-Alcocer, AMERBAC (Mexican Association of Editors)
Chair: Paola de Castro, National Institute of Health, Italy / Gender Policy Committee, EASE Council
The three most spoken languages worldwide are Mandarin Chinese (1,092 million), English (984 million) and Spanish (528 million). Science production is extensive. Not all researchers speak English and not all outputs will be published in major international journals. What happens if scientists do not publish in English? What are their options and challenges? On the occasion of his visit to Mexico, the unforgettable, late Bruce Squires called on us scientists to publish in Spanish. It has been a permanent dilemma since: should we publish in Spanish? In English? In both languages?
Most medical journals in Mexico are published in Spanish with, often poor, summaries in English. We are far from a satisfactory solution and fora like the EASE conference are ideal to find the best options on how to disseminate science to the greatest number of users all over the world. I consider the most important considerations are to be (i) research is carried out in strict adherence to scientific methodology, (ii) readers have access to all elements that allow them to know the scope of the research, (iii) researchers should publish in their original language, and (iv) the translator that prepares the summary in English should be considered as a key member of the research/authorship team.
Dra. María del Carmen Ruíz-Alcocer
AMERBAC (International Affairs Director)
About María del Carmen Ruíz-Alcocer
I am Maria del Carmen Ruiz Alcocer, I am Mexican and did MD from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM 1976-1980). I have graduate studies in Health Administration and a Master in Education. I live in Mexico City.
Since 1981 I have been involved in medical education, most notably the Coordination of the Mexican Television Center for Health Education (CEMESATEL) in 1989-1995; Medical Management (2002-2009) and Medical Director in LiveMed Institute (2009 to date), a Mexican company for Continuing Medical Education all over the country, working in face-to-face and online programs), Medical editor since 1995 in Intersistemas Publishers, a Mexican company founded in 1970 (journals, books, self-teaching programs, e-books and online programs) where I have been Editor in Chief, Editorial Director and now Medical Senior Editor.
I am member of WAME, since 2002 and member of EASE, the European Association of Science Editors since 2013. In EASE I am translating into Spanish the abstracts of European Science Editing since 2014 and now I am translating the Science Editor’s Handbook. For WAME I translated the Syllabus several years ago. In 2003-2005 I was president of AMERBAC (The Mexican Association of Biomedical Journal Editors) and now I am Director for International Affairs 2015-2017 and 2017-2019), and director-at-large in WAME (2003-2005, 2013-2015 and 2017-2019). I was Member of the Editorial Policy Committee of WAME till it was renamed the Ethics and Policy Committee and currently I am a member of the Education Committee.
Two of our members have written a response to Moher et al.’s ‘Core competencies for scientific editors of biomedical journals: consensus statement’, published in BMC Medicine in 2017, from their perspective as authors’ editors.
Valerie Matarese and Karen Shashok’s correspondence article in F1000Research offers some “insights into the types of competencies researchers from diverse geographical, cultural and linguistic backgrounds would value in journal editors.”
The paper discusses several issues, including the definition of journal editor, competencies which were considered then removed during the Delphi process, inappropriate text re-use, and suggests the role of journal editors could encompass some author-editing skills, to give more nuanced feedback on writing and language beyond “blanket “acceptable/unacceptable” assessments”.
Valerie and Karen’s paper is published now, is open for peer review, and can be found at: https://f1000research.com/articles/7-109/v1
– Friday 26th January, 2018 –
Hot on the heels of the Peer Reviewer toolkit, comes a revised Author Toolkit!
In the same style as the PR Toolkit, I have organised all the resources in the toolkit into some main themes and collected them together in different pages.
The main themes of the modules are:
General Writing Tips
Peer Review for Authors
Publishing and Editorial Issues
Ethics for Authors
There is not much new in it yet, but I will be adding new content to the toolkit in the near future, especially an entire module devoted to Open Access, ‘predatory’ journals, pros and cons and more.
Feel free to message me if you would like to be involved in expanding it, or have any comments/questions.