What are translation instructions?
In simple terms, translation instructions are requests given to translators before or during the translation process. These instructions can refer to the style, choice of terms, format or deadline… The more detailed the instructions are, the easier it is for translators to grasp what they need to do, hence helping them to provide translations closest to client’s requests.
Instructions play an important role in the translation process. If translators are given detailed and specific instructions soon, they can be more proactive in their work, and the time investing in editing will be reduced. For that reason, do not hesitate to specify if you have any expectation or requirement on the translation quality, though from a client’s perspective, the request may seem unnecessary. On the other hand, the translator himself should thoroughly review the source text and send out feedback quickly if there is any questions or problems.
Building translation instructions
In order to create a complete, detailed and understandable translation instruction, one first has to know what they are going to use the translation for, their expectations for the format, writing style or how “close” to the source they want the translation to be. For complex requirements, illustrations, references or translation examples can be provided. You will find in this article some useful points that are worth mentioning while trying to write translation instructions.
1. Time to send instructions
Translation instructions should be given as soon as possible, before the translator gets to work. Try to provide translators with essential information as soon as possible, so that they have time to study the requirements, read through some references to gain basic knowledge, organize other works, send questions and prepare as best as they can for the upcoming work. Translators always have to race against time, and the more time they have, the better the translation will be.
Let the translator know what you are going to use the translation for, as well as its audience. This is an important factor that greatly affects the translator’s choice of style and words, or in other words, the soul of the translation.
For instance, it is not possible to apply the same style to translations used for professional research and online newspapers with the main purpose of providing information to the public. Internal and public documents also require different degrees of quality control.
In addition, for the same source, the requirement of conveying just the exact meaning differs from ones required accurate and appropriate wording in order to study psychological states or habits of the writer/speaker.
People preparing materials for learning or teaching purposes sometimes intentionally put some errors in the documents. In that case, translators need to be informed of this issue in advance, so they can accurately convey the creators’ intentions.
3. Style and word choice
As mentioned above, the usage and audience greatly influence the writing style. Clients can also make other specific requirements for translators in terms of style. For example, if the job is about translating marketing materials for a company or product, the client can ask the translator to use a formal, reliable or cheerful style to help close the gap between the company and their promising clients.
The degree of “creativity” to put into a translation is also among the things to consider. For example, when translating subtitles for a movie, the translators may need flexibility to find similar phrases in the target language, not rigidly sticking to the literal meaning of the source text, making the translation so rough and incomprehensible.
If you have a term base or references in your possession, do not hesitate to share. A term can be translated in various ways, and sharing resources not only saves translators time in looking up, but more importantly, helps them use terms consistently.
If the material to translate is already partially translated, notify the translator in advance, so they know if they should keep it the way they are or edit it if needed. If this is not the first time the two parties collaborate, an edited version of the previously translated document could be provided, accompanied by necessary notes.
Sometimes, the requirements do not stop at translation alone. In some cases, the stage after the translation is what is truly exhausting. Do clients only need the translations to be sent back in a simple Word file, should it be presented exactly as the original, should it be bilingual or put in the file provided by the customer? If you want the translation to be presented in a specific way, it is best to make it clear to the translator from the very beginning.
6. Handling abnormal cases
During the translation, it is inevitable that problems will arise, such as errored files, inaccessible links, duplicate content… with no instructions on how to handle or, unclear instructions. Facing that, translators need to quickly inform their client. They, for sure, will need to know who, how and when to contact, in order to make that happen. Always remember to leave necessary contact information in case of emergency and to help shorten time to resolve problems.