Reality check—checking translations the Honyaku Plus way (J)

In the world of Japanese-English translation, the seemingly innocent word “check” can cover a multitude of sins.

It is almost a rite of passage for English speakers recently arrived in Japan to be handed some English text authored by a Japanese friend or acquaintance and asked to “check” it, only for them to discover too late that the English is virtually unintelligible and either requires intensive rewriting or is beyond rescue altogether. (The benign connotations of the word “check” in this context all too often lull the victim into believing that he will simply be able to run his eye over the text and pronounce it good, after perhaps minor adjustments.)

On occasion, companies and other organizations are not above similar tactics. Either in an effort to save on translation costs or simply out of naïvety, they may ask a professional native-English-speaking (NES) translator or a translation company to “check” or “native-check” an internally generated English document produced by a native-Japanese-speaking (NJS) author. The outcome is rarely satisfactory for any of the parties involved. Often, the cumulative effect of the stylistic lapses and grammatical errors in the English soon becomes overwhelming, causing the meaning of the document to be substantially obscured. The native-English “checker” is nevertheless expected to rewrite the piece to clarify meaning, eliminate grammatical error and make it sing stylistically. This is a tall order at best, and is often well-nigh impossible. The end result, then, is in most instances a substandard product that reflects poorly on both the client and the vendor.

At Honyaku Plus, we actively discourage clients from taking this approach and giving us their cobbled-together non-native translations to “check”, “proofread” or “native-check” (three terms that are misnomers in our view—the client’s request would be better described as rewriting or editing).

Instead, we strongly recommend that the client entrust us with the translation in the first place. In the case of Japanese-to-English translation, we then assign to the task an experienced professional translator with sufficient knowledge of the subject matter, who delivers to us a draft translation which is then submitted to checking in accordance with our own definition of the term—that is, an NJS checker compares the translator’s draft with the original source text and flags any mistakes that he finds (such as incorrectly translated words or phrases, omissions, erroneous additions, incorrect nuances, and errors involving numerical values) by inserting comments into the document.

The checker does not make any changes to the translation (as this would involve working directly in their weaker language), but simply critiques its accuracy. The translator then revises his translation based on the checker’s comments, after which we submit the translation to a specialist editor to apply the final polish.

In this way, both translator and checker are playing to their strengths, and we are able to deliver to the client a document that both clearly communicates their original message and reflects well on them in terms of their public image.

In addition, this process allows us to closely monitor and accurately assess the quality of the raw output that our translators are producing—useful information that is then fed back into our overall on-going quality enhancement process.