Your translation is done! It’s finished! Time to send it off!
BUT WAIT!!! Did you edit it?
Edit? I’m a translator, not an editor, why would I need to edit my translation?
In this article we’ll be going over the importance of editing your work
as well as some tips and tricks for self-editing.
This is the summary of a talk I gave for the Michigan State University’s 2023 Japanese Popular Culture & Transmedia Translation Workshop series. I did this last year too, talking about Persistent Pitfalls in Media Translation and How to Avoid Them.
Note: I wasn’t able to use all the examples I gave during the presentation, so those have been removed from this summary.
The Translation Workflow
Many translators aren’t aware of the (ideal) translation workflow. You don’t just get the translation, translate it, and send it back.
The first step is to review the job when you receive it. Check the deadline, workload, content, ask any additional questions and then let your client know if you accept the project. If you do, you should do an initial read through of the text. Doesn’t have to be anything in-depth, just a read through to get a feel for the text, as well as give you a better idea for terms and character voice.
Then you can start translating. And once the translation is done you have the editing then proofreading phase—which are different things! (More on that later.)
Once you’re done you can deliver the text. If you’re really lucky you might get some feedback, questions or requests to edit something.
Each translation project will look a little different but this is the basic workflow that you’ll be working through as a professional.
Even Translators Need to Edit
You might think that as a translator you don’t need to edit—you do!
Now, you might be thinking…if there’s an editor on the project then do I really need to edit too? And the answer is YES!
Editors are not there to fix your translations. They are there to polish your translation for the context/audience of the project. They might go hogwash and change everything without asking you (which is bad IMO and deserves a whole talk of its own), but at the end of the day YOUR job is to give a final translation that’s as close to ready to publish as is as possible.
We all make simple mistakes or misunderstand things the first time around. Multiple drafts and multiple edits are key to creating high quality work.
Editing vs Proofreading
Editing is when you improve the overall writing quality and readability. This should be conducted on all passes or drafts of your work.
Proofreading addresses the surface-level issues, such as spelling mistakes. This is also when you pick up punctuation mistakes and inconsistencies. A proofread should always be conducted on the final draft.
One more important thing to remember is—you should not translate and edit at the same time!!!
I mean, I guess you can, I’m not your mum. But it’s not a good idea!
Translator Brain vs Editor Brain
Translating and editing at the same time isn’t a good idea because of your “translator brain” and “editor brain”.
Your right brain is said to handle the more creative works, which in our industry would be translation. While your left brain handles logical tasks, such as editing. This is what I call “Translator Mode” and “Editor Mode”.
Because these two modes are engaging different parts of your brain, it takes a lot of energy to change between them constantly. Which is why if you try to edit as you translate then you’ll put a lot of unnecessary strain on your brain, which can exhaust you faster.
To switch modes effectively you should,
- Always take a break in-between translating and editing. (Honestly the longer the better, but we know in the media translation industry that’s not a luxury we often get.)
- Have a “translation space” and an “editing space”. A change in location can help you switch modes.
- And sometimes it even helps to put a literal editors hat on!
Creative writers do these techniques too!
– The Core Principles of Editing –
When you’ve finished a translation—you’ve had a break, had a cup of tea, gone for a walk, changed rooms, and put on your editor’s hat—it’s time to start editing!
There are three core principles to think about when you’re editing text,
- Is it accurate?
I don’t mean “do the exact words match the source?”, but is the overall meaning accurately reflected?
Is the tone and are the words consistent?
⇒ This often means double checking sentences and paragraphs and comparing them with the source text. If something feels off, double check it!!!
- Is it clear?
Is the English or target text clear for the reader to understand what’s going on?
If you have an untranslated word, is the meaning still clear from context?
Do sentences, scenes, and events make sense?
- Is it brief?
Are sentences too long?
Do you have redundant wording or passive voice?
Ideally you should be asking yourself these questions with every pass of the text, but that can be a lot which is why it’s good to do multiple drafts and focus on different things each time.
You shouldn’t edit everything same way,
but pick the most appropriate edit based on the context!
How you edit something will vary between each project and for each segment within the same translation.
You should always be careful you don’t stray too far from source meaning/intent and give wrong impression.
– Editing Techniques –
So what are some of the things you can do to edit your translation effectively? Let’s first look at some editing techniques for Accuracy.
Compare the Translation to the Source
I mentioned this in the last segment, but if you come across something that reads weird, compare it to the source!
You don’t need to go through every single line in the translation, but if you get that nagging feeling that something is off, you should double check it. This is also good for double checking you didn’t skip any lines in the source.
Check Verb & Term Consistency
Sometimes when you work on a long translation project like games, you can easily forget what word you used for a certain object or situation.
As you read through a text you may come across a verb, noun or term that you know is used in multiple places—double check using the find tool of whatever program you’re using to translate.
Now, the next few techniques can be used to help with both clarity and brevity.
Check Passive Voice & Wordy Lines
The first is a passive voice check.
It is SO easy to slip into the passive voice in Japanese. Not because the Japanese is in passive voice, but because the subject at the start of the sentence tricks you into writing your English with a similar grammar pattern.
Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb.
Such as “She was running from the room.” or “It had been a year since I’d made him my oshi.”
Editing passive voice into active makes the sentence shorter and easier to digest.
You can find passive voice easier by searching or keeping an out for “was” “were” “by” “had” “-ing”.
Similarly, keep an eye our for wordy sentences.
Check for Redundant Words
Similar to the passive voice, we have what I call, wishy-washy words. Such as, “very” “about” “every” “like“ and sensory words, like “felt/heard etc.”
Take this sentence for example, only body heat would move across your body, and “back of” is also redundant when you’re talking about shoulders.
But as I said before, if the context requires these words to make the scene clearer, sometimes it’s best to keep them in.
Check for Your Own Bad Habits
We all have our own bad habits when we write or translate. For me I write “so” a lot in spoken dialogue and need to search for them and try to cut them out during my editing phase.
Japanese translation can also lead to translation traps that result in weirdly worded English. Such as など being translated to “and so on”.
Japanese translators often fall for “it seems” “like” “as if” “so on” “let’s” “sudden” and more. If you come across these terms, think about whether you really need them or if they make the English read strange.
You might need a second opinion to run a sanity check for you!
– Proofreading Techniques –
You should ideally run spellcheck between every draft of your work.
If you’re working on a project with weird spelling in Microsoft Word, then you can create a custom dictionary for a project. This allows you to ignore project-specific terms when you run a spellcheck.
Go to File > Options > Proofing > Custom Dictionaries > New
Print and Re-read
There will always be things that spellcheck won’t catch, such as “clam” instead of “calm”. That’s why it’s always good to re-read the text from start to finish.
Many writers will do with by printing and re-reading the text. If you make corrections in pen then that keeps you focused on the draft in front of you. If you try to edit while you re-read then you might miss things.
Text to Voice / Read Aloud
Another method (which I suggest doing as well as the print and re-read) is to use text to voice software and/or reading the project out loud yourself.
To set up text to voice in Word, go to File > Options > Customize Quick Access Toolbar > Speak > Add
This gives you an icon at the top of the page which you can click to start the computer reading the text to you.
Grammar Tools Such as Grammarly
I discovered Grammarly recently, which can be really useful for running a final proofread. However, as I mentioned before, context dictates! Just because a program like Grammarly suggests a change doesn’t mean it’s a good change. You should think about every suggestion in context of the text.
As the translator it’s you who decides how something is translated.
The Editing/Proofreading Workflow
Find what works for you!
Everyone is different. Some people might translate in the morning then edit yesterday’s translation in the afternoon. Others might translate the whole text, and then edit everything. Some might spend a day translating and the next day editing. Find what works for you!
Spend as many drafts on a text and you feel the text needs (this might be impacted by how much a client is paying you or your deadline.)
- Editing and proofreading are important parts of translation!
- Editing improves the overall writing quality while proofreading polishes already good writing.
- Editing is difficult to do at the same time as translation. It’s better to “switch modes” once you’ve stopped translating.
- The core principles of editing are, accuracy, clarity, and brevity.
- But at the end of the day context dictates how you edit something. As the translator it’s your job to decide!
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