Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Translators and criticism


About your translation… Well, I don't know, something's wrong with it, I can't really tell you what it is, it's so hard to pinpoint… Well, first of all, your words, they weren't exactly wrong, but I wouldn't use these words you know, and overall, looking at your translation I feel that something doesn't feel well… I know it's subjective but… isn't everything subjective in life?

How would you respond if someone said this to you?

Some people find it hard to deal with criticism. Is it because they are sensitive? Or selfish? Is it because they think they know better? After all, criticism can make us work harder and so achieve better results. We should be more open-minded. We should stop being wimps. We should embrace criticism.

Now, what is criticism? The above comment isn't criticism. Criticism can make us better. In which ways the above can make you better? Does it contain specific examples of things that went wrong? Does it clarify certain issues? Does it provide other, more suitable options? Does it justify what it says? The above comment makes you feel bad precisely because it is so vague. And that's why you can't say anything against it. You can't stand your ground.

That's exactly why it's useless, too. It can't help you at all. This just criticises you for the sake of it. Now, if someone really wanted to help you, they would structure their criticism in a different way:

Hey, about that translation, just wanted to pinpoint a few things. First, you translated X as Y but as you can see here in this online dictionary (reference), there is term Z which is more appropriate in this context. Y is more general, right? Second, why did you keep these long sentences of the original? I say you split them up to a point, as it will make the translation easier to read. Overall it was quite good!

This piece of criticism is not bad, right? What do you think?

Now, you may disagree with these changes. But here it would be much easier to respond and defend your case.

Translators are sensitive to criticism for many reasons. First of all there is this 'translator-traitor' mentality, which makes us anxious to translate precisely. Moreover, the struggle with every single detail, which is part and parcel of our lives as translators, often goes unnoticed, whereas a tiny mistake is easily spotted (and frowned upon) by everyone.

Always ask for constructive criticism. When they respond in vague terms, ask them to elaborate. Do the same when you give criticism. Give references and explanations. Be precise and objective. And always make sure that your feedback has constructive value. Criticism can make us better translators. We shouldn't be afraid of it when it is done right.

Thanks for reading :)

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