Measuring translation quality

Quality in translation is something that good translators have an instinctive feel for. But how do you measure translation quality? How do you define it? The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation evaluates the translations provided by its contractors using the criteria set out below. First, some simple Yes/No quality criteria:

  • Compliance with technical requirements? (Y/N)
  • Right language? (Y/N)[!]
  • Assignment complete? (Y/N)
  • Specific instructions complied with?(Y/N)

Then, the following error types, marked by “Low” to “High” relevance (a “high relevance” error being “one which seriously compromises the translation’s usability”):

  • Mistranslation
  • Omission
  • Wrong or inconsistent EU usage or terminology
  • Reference documents/material not used
  • Clarity and/or register
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

These are pretty self-evident; for those of you not familiar with the term in a language context, “register” is the variety of a language considered to be appropriate to a specific purpose, situation or social setting. So for EU documents the register will most likely be formal, institutional or technical.

What makes a quality translation?

What do you think of these translation quality criteria? Are there any gaps (bearing in mind that we’re dealing here with European Union material, so creativity and imaginative flair aren’t likely to be key requirements)? And what about translation quality more generally – for example for marketing or literary texts? If you’re a translator, do you have any personal quality criteria that you work to? And if you’re a translation client, or potential client, what do you look for in a translation?

How do you judge translation quality?

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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