Every translator should also be a copyeditor

Translation in its initial stages is an art form, but there is certainly some science in creating the final product. Your task requires writing well about someone other author’s thoughts, balancing loyalty to the source text with clarity for the foreign reader. This other author is often an expert in a field you deal with only occasionally, through translation. The task gets even more complicated as client expectations and source author writing skills vary.

With so many differences across projects, it can be difficult to know you are turning in consistently good work. Some jobs are laughably easy, while others make you want to cry in frustration. Some jobs you think are perfection, but the client thinks otherwise. Some phrases are commonplace, and others take hours of research to define. In this roller-coaster world of freelance translation, how can you maintain confidence in your product?

Know how to copyedit. Find a class that gives you hands-on practice and detailed feedback. People do nothing but copyediting for a living; it’s not a simple job. Let them teach you a thing or two! For translation, the knowledge and practice of good copyediting:

  • gives structure to your creation by offering a regular set of rules to follow for consistent, cohesive, and precise writing.
  • aids your analysis of the source text by honing your grammar and writing skills. Learning more about your target language reveals the delicate nuances and subtle connotations of words and phrases the non-writer misses.
  • frees your creativity in the initial drafting. With a structured and impersonal copyediting process guaranteed later on, you can take more liberties with your art. You have already factored in time to review and weed out the less successful risks, before anyone else finds out.
  • allows you to be impersonal when reviewing your work. The act of translating forces you to bond closely with the source text, which can make any errors impossible or painful to notice. It’s akin to admitting defeat or, worse, a mistake! Approaching a translation with your copyediting hat on gives new meaning to the task—for the moment, you are not a translator, but a copyeditor. Finding errors means you are doing your job well!
  • grants humility in an otherwise isolated task that can engender the illusion of omnipotence. You know you make mistakes, because you catch them—regularly. And that’s ok, because these mistakes were part of your creative process. Accepting them as such makes you more approachable to clients and fellow translators alike.  (Nobody likes a know-it-all.)

I’ve worked in both fields, so I say this from experience. What about you? Does this fit into your translation process? What helps you create your best work?

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3 thoughts on “Every translator should also be a copyeditor

  1. Pingback: Good tips for a great editing process | translation, untangled

  2. Pingback: On the English language | translation, untangled

  3. Pingback: On being a better translator | translation, untangled

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