A Checklist for Test Translation Reviewers

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I insisted many times on the importance of test translations – short texts you give to a potential translator for the to translate and return. I recommend that you give the result to native speakers of the target language (the language your book is being translated into) and ask them to review the translator’s work. In this post, I’m going to suggest a checklist to present those rewievers with. You may take it as it is, ask your reviewers to concentrate on some elements more than on others, or add more questions. What I recommend against is simply asking the reviewers “Just tell me what you think of this”: that doesn’t provide them with any criterion and may even lead them to mistake a bad translation for an acceptable one. By contrast, if you ask them to focus on specific aspects, they will be able to judge the translator’s work and tell you if they are worth your money.

Without further delay, here’s the checklist!

1. Does the Translation Sound Natural?

Did you, as a native reader of language X, feel that the language flows naturally? Were there weird constructs? Did any passage feel like it was translated too literally? Were you sometimes able to “see through” the translation and find traces of the original language?

This is perhaps the most important point. If the translation sounds “broken”, it’s not a good translation. Everything else – mistranslations, bad word choices, typos – can be corrected, but a translation that sounds unnatural shows a fundamental lack of skill on the translator’s part. Do not waste your money on them.

2. Was the Punctuation Correct?

Were all commas, full stops, etc. in the right place? Did the translator follow every punctuation rule of Language X?

This aspect is often overlooked. I’ve read dozens of Italian translation of English books that still used the Oxford comma, or put a comma instead of a colon before dialogue tags. The resuls was an unpolished, shoddy translation that looked like it was done lazily. You don’t want to give your readers lazy work.

3. What about the Grammar?

Same as above. Did the translator follow every rule and convention? Did they make mistakes? Did they improvise?

Bad grammar can really kill the mood of a story. I’m not referring only to gross mistakes like the use of a wrong tense: even putting the adjective before the name it refers to, instead of after it (the common rule with Italian adjectives) can make the translation sound weird. Weird-sounding translations take the reader out of the story, and that’s never good.

4. Could You See the Message of the Story?

Did you spot any central idea from the language used in the translation? In other words, did you feel like the wording in some places had been chosen to convey a specific mood? If the author told you that they used lots of religious references in the original, could you spot them in the translation?

Test translations are short, but they can – and they should – be chosen among the most pregnant parts of your novel. What is important here is that your translator should have the intelligence to get the reference and the integrity to reproduce it. If in the original manuscript a character aks a waiter to “take this cup away from me”, and the translator doesn’t even bother to convey a similar feel, chances are that they’re not the person you want to work with.

5. Is the Language of the Translation Proper?

Did you feel like the translation was particularly vulgar or, conversely, particularly chaste? Did you find the language particularly lyric, or street-like, or anything else?

This is a very important question for target languages who have many different degrees of courtesy, ie. Japanese. Choosing the wrong forms is the best way to raise a red flag in the reader’s mind. This isn’t limited to dialogue, either: give the same text to a dozen translators and see how they translate the various uses of “fuck” (I hope nobody gets offended by seeing that word here, by the way). The use of the wrong kind of language may turn readers away.

As usual, if you want to give your contribution or simply want to ask me a question, leave a comment or contact me via mail. I always reply. 🙂

We Have an Exclusive!

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I’m interrupting the flow of public-service posts with a great news: I recently signed an exclusive translation contract with award-winning romance author Amber Kell. This means she trusts me enough to make me the sole translator of both her Dragon Shifters and Moon Pack series. You won’t see other names in the translator credits of those books. Just miiiiine. *evil laughter*

Going back to serious, it’s a great honor to become an author’s “official” translator (I’m using the word loosely here, as Amber still holds the translation rights for all her other books, as far as I know). I don’t think I have ever been so excited before. From what I know of her, Amber is an amazing person as well as an acclaimed romance writer. I can only hope to do her work justice.

All this doesn’t mean I won’t take requests for other translations. On the contrary: as I explained in my previous post,  translations need to “rest” many times before they’re ready for a new revision. While a book is “resting”, I can definetly work on something else, both to refresh my mind and to increase my productivity. Therefore, I’m still accepting commissions. Make use of the Contacts page, folks; I will be reading your messages 😉

Now, if you excuse me, I’ll go back to jumping around the room.

How I Work

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Many writers who are looking for a translator worry (and rightly so!) about how their book will be treated. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s the way I work.

I start with a draft (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). I read the book and translate it as I go. I’m not looking for the perfect translation, yet; I just want to get everything on paper. This early translation is still done with lots of attention – words are chosen and sentences are structured following specific criteria. I would never send a manuscript at this stage to the author, but that doesn’t mean it’s not being translated properly.

As I’m working on the first draft, I write down a reference sheet. On that page I put all the recurring terms (including names), their current translation and all the previous versions. A line in the reference sheet might look like this:

Bearer—– Portatore —– Araldo

“Bearer” would be the original word (say, of a mythical figure). “Portatore” would be the first translation I had chosen. “Araldo” would be the translation that I now find more appropriate, perhaps because I found the word used in a similar context and it lit a spark.

The reference sheet allows me to be sure that, say, “Bearer” isn’t translated one way on page 12 and the other way on page 97 (I have seen it in published books). It also makes revisions way easier, as I know exactly what to search and replace.

After I finish the first draft, I let the translation rest for a few days. Then I go through it and revise it. This time, I’m working to improve what’s already there. I make sure that the text is both faithful to the original and good to read. Sometimes, this means changing entire paragraphs that I previously wrote; other times, it’s just minor adjustments. At this stage, i also correct all the typos I can find.

The draft then goes to the proofreader. She is wonderful at her job. When I get the manuscript back, it’s usually twice as good as it was before her revision. I look through all the proofreader’s notes and corrections, making sure that each and every change I make improves the translation in some way. I know that many people simply click on the “Accept All Revisions” buttons at this point, but I find that kind of lazy. I’d rather be sure that everything in the manuscript is there because I decided it belonged there.

Finally, I do one last revision. This time, I do strive for perfection. The book has to be great. It has to read like a book originally written in Italian, not a translation. If the original language can still be identified (perhaps because of sentence structure or idiomatic expressions), I have done a bad job. It’s like having a book printed on paper so thin you can see through the pages: it might be the best book ever writer, but the product as a whole isn’t good.

After the final editing, the translation is sent to you, the author. My job is done.

To sum it up: every translation I make goes through three revisions, one of which is made by a third person. This ensures the greatest quality. It does slow the process down a bit, but I prefer to give the author a good translation than a fast, mediocre one.

 

Are you looking for a translation? You can learn more about what I do here, and contact me if you want to ask me anything. 🙂

Going Deeper: 4 Good Reasons Not to Pay Up Front

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In some of my older posts, I recommend that no author should pay a freelancer all the money up front. That’s true for all kinds of editorial services: translations, cover illustrations, cover designs, editing, Voodoo magics, and everything else. Honest professionals ask for part of their payments up front and the rest when they deliver; you should stick to that model and avoid those who ask for something different. Here are five good reasons why paying the entire sum up front might hurt you.

 

Reason #1: You Might Get Scammed

It could go like this: you find a freelancer who looks good, or they contact you first. They offer you a “special discount” if you pay all the money in one solution, up front. You trust them, but after you pay, they disappear. They do not reply to your emails. If they gave you a Skype ID or other means of contact, you find out that they blocked you or are simply ignoring your messages. Their online profile turns out to be fake, with made-up personal info and a picture taken from the Internet. The job is, of course, not getting done, and you have little hope of getting your money back.

Dozens of scams happen every minute in every parts of the world. You don’t need to be particularly gullible to fall for one, especially if the scammer is good. Even if you’re not dealing with a dishonest person, though, other bad things may happen when you pay all the money up front. For example…

 

Reason #2: Delivery Might Get Delayed

For a freelancer, the payment is the reward for finishing a job. But if you pay your freelancer the entire sum up front, before they even begin working, you put them in an awkward psychological position: they already got their reward, so all that’s left is the long, tiresome “work” part. They might be tempted to procrastinate and give you excuses for longer delivery times. Or, if they’re dealing with other people at the same time, and those people required a multiple payments model instead of a single, up-front payment, the freelancer might be tempted to put those people’s manuscripts before yours, because, well, you already paid them. The other authors have still money to give them.

From this warning, another one follows…

 

Reason #3: Quality Might Decline

For the same reason stated above, a freelancer is less encouraged to do a good job if they have already been paid. It’s less about ethics and more about psychology: they had their reward already, so why is there still work to be done? Better do it quickly and then look for other gratifications. It might sound silly, but working on a project after you’ve been paid for it feels like you’re working for nothing, because you’re not going to get any reward at the end (you already got it). Perhaps it doesn’t make sense, but it’s how the human mind work.

All the points so far have been about the freelancer; the last one, however, is about you. I put it last, but it’s arguably one of the most important ones. You should never pay all the money for a project up front because…

 

Reason 4: It’s Harder on Your finances

Most people who give advice overlook this issue. Translations easily cost thousands of dollars; cover illustrations by good artists do get well into the hundreds. Paying, say, one-third up front and the rest when the work is done allows you to breathe a little deeper, financially speaking, since you don’t have thousands of dollars going out all at once. As the freelancer is working, you might get some earnings from royalties, previous projects or other sources, which would lighten the burden. Conversely, paying a lot of money all at once might force you to make sacrifices or to postpone other projects you might want to begin sooner.

 

Do you want to know more about dealing safely with freelancers? Subscribe to my blog to be kept up to date with my posts! 🙂 Or perhaps you are looking for a translator? Check out this page, in which I may answer some of your questions, and contact me for more information on what I can do for you.

Two Out, Endless More to Go

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Hi everyone! This is just a quick post to tell you that my first two translations since I opened this blog are out. 😀 They are both books written by the amazing Amber Kell, best-selling M/M author and one of the few who can take my humor and retort appropriately.

The first book is Attracting Anthony, first novel in the Moon Pack series; the second one is Mate Hunt, first book of the Dragon Shifters. Reviews for both books point out that the translation is good, which is nice to know. 🙂

Oh, by the way: Happy New Year, readers! I’ll see you in 2015

“How Much Should I Pay for a Translation?”

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Price and quality are the most important features of a translation. Since “How good should a good translation be?” is the most complex question, let’s begin with the other one instead: how much is a good translation worth? Rates and payment methods vary greatly from translator to translator. Some will ask for thousands of dollars and royalties to translate your books; others will content with the monetary equivalent of breadcrumbs. Now, before I go on, let me say one thing for honesty’s sake: in this article, I won’t tell you how much you should pay for a translation. It would be all too easy to copy the content of a certain page on my website and advocate for why that’s exactly how much you should pay. Since I’m trying to do useful posts here, I won’t do that.

After establishing that, I can give away some secrets.

Here’s the trick: when you are looking at any translator’s rates, you shouldn’t read them as money that will go out of your pocket if you choose to work with that particular person. You should, instead, see the rate per word as the amount of attention, care and love the translator is going to give to your work. In other words, a rate of 1 cent per word means that every word in your book is going to receive 1 cent worth of qualified effort. The primary question then becomes: “How much attention do I want each word of my book to be invested with?

Of course, your economic resources are still a primary factor. You can’t buy what you can’t afford, and if you believe you’re being overcharged, then by all means negotiate or look for someone else. However, changing your primary question allows you to see the issue from a new point of view. Instead of looking for the cheapest translator, you should decide on a budget and look for freelancers according to that budget. You’ve already decided how much you are willing to invest; now it’s time to get the most out of it. Scout for translators, and ask for test translations and/or references to all of them. Then pick the one who suits your need.

Take a moment to assimilate the first secret. When you’re done, go on and read the next one.

Here it is: money spent on translations has diminishing returns. The difference between Google Translate and a bad translator is larger than the gap between the latter and a mediocre translator, which, in turn, is larger than the difference between a mediocre translator and a good one (going from “obscure mess of random words” to “obviously bad, but readable translation” is a bigger jump than the one from “bad, but readable” to “everything in its place, just doesn’t lit me up”). You don’t need to invest dozens of thousands of dollars in the translation of a book; chances are that a 0.12 $/word translation isn’t twice as good as a 0.06 $/word one. But at the same time, if you have cash to invest, well, use it. As the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Choosing to save money on translations means spending a little less now, and potentially lose a lot later. In essence, it’s betting against yourself.

Looking for a translator? Check out that famous page and contact me for more informations on what I can do for you.

The Translation Diaries, Episode 3: Translating Personal Names

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If you ever had to translate anything, it’s likely you came upon one of translation’s most quoted rules: “Never translate personal names”. As with many rules, this is true in a number of circumstances, but there are also many exceptions. It all depends on what exactly you are translating.

My main area of expertise is fiction. Now, in fiction, the translation of personal names is a complex issue. Generally speaking, “ordinary” personal names shouldn’t be translated. My own name, Ernesto, is of Spanish origin, and it shouldn’t become “Ernest” if I’m mentioned in an English discussion. A character named “Mary” she doesn’t become “Marie” in the French translation of the novel. The same goes for family names: it would be its own kind of madness to translate “Smith” as “Fabbri” while working from English to Italian.

As I told you, there are expection to the rule. They mostly come up in speculative fiction, particularly when dealing with meaningful names. Those are quite common in two specific genres: fantasy and science ficiton.

In fantasy, meaningful names may have the role of honorifics or express a character’s reputation: a powerful warrior might be known as “Skullsplitter” or “Steelhand”, for example. But there are novels where every character (or at least a good number of them) is named meaningfully: such is the case of Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker, where all the Returned have names such as Lightsong or Blushweaver. Such is the case of Stormbringer, Elric’s demon sword in Michael Moorcock’s stories. How does a translator deal with such situations?

My phylosophy is that meaningful names in fantasy need to be translated. Even when they work as personal names, such as in Warbreaker. The reason is simple: fantasy is modern epic, and epic characters’ names must be understandable. Obscure names lose their suggestive power. If I don’t know what “Shadow” or “Stormbringer” means, I might not understand those characters completely. I might get a good idea by reading the novels, but without knowing that “Stormbringer” means “someone or something who brings the storm” (a metaphor for cosmic disorder), I might fail to appreciate what the writer is trying to tell me (in Stormbringer’s case, that the sword has its own agenda. Notice the participle: it’s the sword who brings the storm, not its wielder).

Suspension of disbelief is another motivation to translate meaningful names. Finding an English name in a fantasy novel translated into Italian is confusing at best. To get an idea, imagine reading an epic novel filled with poetry and strong images… only to find a character named “Redentore”. Since you don’t know Italian, you have no clue about that name. If you don’t know that it means “Redeemer”, you might be confused and even miss a good chunk of the novel’s deepest meanings. Why, in a perfect English prose, do you have to stumble on an Italian name? Why hasn’t it been translated like everything else?

Now, science fiction is a different animal. Meaningful names exist there, too… but most of them are better left untranslated, especially the English ones (I’m not talking about translation into English, of course).

The reason is simple: English is, more often than not, the international language of technology and IT. Most people would expect a spaceship, gadget or tool to have an English name. Therefore, just like “Samsung Galaxy” doesn’t become “Samsung Galassia” in Italian, and “Internet” has (to my knowledge) never been translated, so English names in science fiction should be left as they are. There are exceptions, of course: I would probably left a technology’s name unchanged, but I would translate an individual ship’s name, especially if it was relevant to the plot. As always, contest is the key: if a name adds a level of meaning to the story, then it needs to be understandable. Otherwise, it might as well not be there.

As you can see, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the translation of personal names. As with many other things in the world of translations, it falls to the translator to make the right choice.

Did you write a novel full of meaningful names? Check out this page to see how I can help you reach new readers, and contact me for information and business proposals.

Who Should Check Test Translations?

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In a previous post I stressed the importance of test translations – short texts you give a translator so they can prove their skill to you. But who should verify the quality of these translations? Certainly not you – if you were that competent in the target language, you probably wouldn’t need a translator. So, who?

My first recommendation is: don’t ask an agency or another translator to review test translations. First, because it’s disrespectful: you’re throwing into their face that you’re employing someone else. Second, because – since they are your translator’s competitors – it’s in their best interest to say the test translation is bad. This way, they can offer their services as an alternative and make money out of you. “The piece you sent us is decent, but we believe we could do much better” is a pretty common answer, and why shouldn’t it be? If the second translator or the agency can convince you to work with them, they earn a new client; if they can’t, they’re still getting paid for reviewing the test. It’s a win-win situation for them, but not for you.

Guaranteed, many people out there are honest and would call a good translation good, but you should never rely on someone to act against their interest in order to do you a favor. So, I would recommend avoiding asking translation agencies and freelance translators to review test translations.

My best advice is to ask a native speaker of the target language to review the translation. You don’t need a specialist: the vast majority of your future readers will not be specialists either. You need someone who is representative of your target audience and will read the translation with the same eyes. The best choice would be one of your fans abroad: someone who read your work in the original language, but is also a native speaker of the target language. They will be able to tell if the translation is good, and merciless in critiquing it. Of course, it would be even better if they had translation experience themselves.

When possible, don’t give the reviewer the original text. Many people, especially those who are not translators, will often consider the slightest deviation from the original text as an unforgivable sin, even if said change improves readability and even if it’s actually required by the target language’s rules. Italian, for example, has longer words and sentences than English, and it doesn’t generally use the Oxford comma, so breaking up sentences is often required in order not to end up with unreadable paragraphs; but an overzealous reviewer, confronting the translation with the original text, might consider this a great wrongdoing. Of course, if a person you know to be competent asked you to see the original text, you should give it to them. Chances are they had good reasons for asking.

Test translations are a great way to scree out bad translators and find the one you need to reach an entirely new public. Use them without fear.

 

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The Translation Diaries, Episode 2: Courtesy Forms

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In English, when you are talking to someone and want to show respect, you mostly do so by adding words. Calling someone “sir”, “madam” or “Your Majesty” means that you hold the person in front of you (or the person you’re writing to) in a certain consideration. But for the most part, the structure and content of your sentence remain the same: “Good morning” and “Good morning, madam” differ only for the honorific, but are otherwise the same sentence.

Italian, on the other hand, gets crazy with courtesy forms. The most shocking thing about it is that you show respect by changing person. That’s right, the actual, grammatical person of the verb you’re using. Sometimes you even have to change the gender! Let me show you.

Suppose that you meet a friend on the street, and you want to greet him. To say “Hi! How are you?” in Italian you could go with:

Ciao! Come stai?

Now, let’s say that you want to use the same greeting, but the person you meet is someone you’re supposed to show respect to (your teacher or your boss, for example). First of all, you need to use a more formal salute; not the colloquial “Ciao!”, but a more formal “Buongiorno!” But after that, to show your interlocutor the proper respect, you also have address them as “her”… even if they are the person we’re talking to and they happen to be male!

Here’s how you can say “Hi! How are you?” in a formal way:

Buongiorno! Come sta?

“Sta” is the third person singular of the verb “stare”, which is what we use for “to be” in this case. Now, if the honorable person were to reply “I’m fine, and you?”, and they wanted to use the same courtesy form, they would say something like this:

Io sto bene, e lei?

Which literally means “I’m fine. What about her?” Even if they’re talking to you and you happen to be male.

If English is your native language, this will probably seem absurd. But this courtesy form actually has historical roots: during the Renaissance, nobles were addressed as Sua Signoria or Sua Eccellenza, meaning respectively “His Lordship” and “His Excellency”. However, signoria and eccellenza are female in Italian, so female pronouns were used. Centuries later, we still use the third person singular (female) in lieu of the second person as a form of respect.

But it gets weirder (yes, there is weirder). It’s rarely used nowadays, at least in official Italian, but there’s a courtesy form that consists of adressing the other person with the second person plural (“voi”). That’s right, we’re making two (or three, or legion) of one person.

(we’re not alone in this, though. The French do it as well)

Here’s how you might greet, say, the Pope if you met him down the street:

Buongiorno, Santità! Come state?

State is, of course, the second person plural of “stare”, while Santità is “(Your) Holyness”.

You will almost never see this courtesy form used today. There are notable exceptions in some dialects, especially those from southern Italy (Neapolitan being the most notorious one), but for the most part it’s considered obsolete. It is, however, still considered the “right” form to adress royalty (although we have no royalty) and some important figures, mostly religious ones.

In italian there are also words like “signore” and “signora”, which are sometimes used were you would expect to see “sir” or “madam”, but the changing of person and (sometimes) gender is the thing that shocks foreigners the most. Many people think we’re crazy (and, being Italians, we might well be).

Courtesy forms come up a lot in translations. With three different levels of formality, it’s a pain to decide which one you have to use at a given point in a translation, especially when the English text gives you no clue about it.

What’s the appropriate form to use, for example, when a werewolf speaks to her pack alpha? Second person plural (from now on SPP) would seem right, since pack alphas are a kind of royalty, but it also might sound archaic. On the other hand, third person female (TPF) risks sounding like the character is addressing her accountant, not someone who could very well rip her to pieces. The translator has to look the contest and employ every little bit of his cultural awareness to make sure the translation is flawless.

It gets easier with other genres. Fantasy generally uses SPP, which is perceived as more “ancient”. Stories set in the contemporary present usually go with TPF, because that sounds more realistic. But then again, no two stories are alike, and translating courtesy forms the correct way can be sometimes challenging. But challenges are, after all, among the things that make translating a beautiful work.

 

Did you write a story were etiquette and formality make all the difference? Give a look here to see how I can help you reach new readers, and contact me for information and business proposals.